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Reflecting on Atticus Finch

“I am a lawyer. I am entrusted by the People of Texas to preserve and improve our legal system. I am licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. I must, therefore, abide by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, but I know that professionalism requires more than merely avoiding the violation of laws and rules. I am committed to this creed for no other reason than it is right.”

There is a little bit of Atticus Finch in everyone who has chosen this life of serving the justice system. In my personal, unwritten post-script to “To Kill A Mockingbird,” I imagine that Scout followed in her father’s footsteps and became a lawyer. I did not become a lawyer because either of my parents practiced law. They did, however, practice civility and strong values in their everyday lives. In that regard, I strive to follow in the footsteps of my parents and live my life within my code of values and civility.

Many clients are not aware that the Supreme Court of Texas promulgated (fancy word for proclaimed) the Texas Lawyer’s Creed in 1989. The Texas Lawyer’s Creed sets out the ideal for every attorney licensed to practice law in Texas. These ideals know no geographic boundaries (although that seemed to be part of the impetus of the Texas Supreme Court as they state that their goal in promulgating the Texas Lawyer’s Creed is to eliminate abuse tactics by attorneys which surfaced “in many parts of our country.”) In the years since the drafting of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed, I am certain that the majority of my fellow attorneys, in Texas and around the globe, aspire to these ideals, too.

The first section of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed speaks to the Atticus in each of us:

  • We are proud of our profession and our word is our integrity.
  • We give our time and services to those who would otherwise be unable to access our justice system.
  • Rather than acting as the inspiration for the”bad reputation of the legal community,” we should each aspire to the Lawyer’s Creed
  • We are to be aware that we owe a duty to our system of justice and our stewardship of the justice system is an honor we should not trample upon

The next sections of the Lawyer’s Creed set forth the standards for our relationship with our client, with other attorneys, and with the judges.  Generally speaking:

  • we are to act with honor and honesty while serving our clients and seeking to resolve the client’s issues as quickly and economically as possible
  • we are to maintain objectivity and loyalty to our client without becoming personally enmeshed in their case 
  • we are to be civil and courteous to others because it is the right thing to do
  • we will not participate in the intentional harassment or delays
  • we will not participate in frivolous suits, motions, discovery requests or obstructive discovery responses
  • we will advise the client of the alternatives to litigation
  • we will not nit-pick style when the issue is substance
  • we will identify changes we make in documents
  • we will promptly draft orders that are accurate and reflect the true terms of a ruling or an agreement
  • we will call, email, text, fax, or otherwise notify all who need to know and the Court when hearings, depositions, meeting, conferences or other matters are canceled
  • we will be reasonable with one another so long as it does not adversely affect our client
  • we will adhere to the rules of procedure and evidence in serving pleadings and motions
  • we will make good faith efforts to resolve disputes without taking up the Court’s time
  • we will not be unethical and we will make a true effort not to be snide, tacky, sarcastic or otherwise disagreeable in person, on the phone, or in writing
  • we will not make false accusations of unethical behavior against our opposing counsel and we will not disparage opposing counsel or the opposing party to our client
  • we will not take a default or obtain a dismissal when we know there is an attorney on the other side of the case without first contacting that attorney about their intention to proceed
  • we will make good faith efforts to schedule hearings, depositions and other matters by agreement
  • we will stipulate to undisputed facts

That is a fairly lengthy laundry list of dos and don’ts that can be distilled into these tenets: advocate with honor; be honest in all that you do; be respectful while standing your ground; be courteous to others; be ethical at all times; and, remember that we not only represent our clients–we represent our profession every day; our conduct determines whether others perceive us as noble, like Atticus Finch, or not.