In our post-modern world, the idea of “professional virtue” can seem quaint, old-fashioned and even preachy.
Yet nothing is better for your bottom line than adding virtues like empathy, honesty and self-discipline to your daily routine.
The best part: you can do it without spending a penny or breaking a sweat.
It might seem odd to think of virtues - defined as “basic moral and ethical principles” – as a value-added feature of your practice. But research has shown that nothing packs more power.
From the Social Science Research Network:
“Being a great lawyer has a lot to do with adding value. One may add value through sustained superior performance, through the fulfillment of one’s purpose and by inculcating the lawyerly virtues of wisdom, diligence, discretion, loyalty, passion and an overriding respect for justice.”
We know this is true from personal experience. What client doesn’t want a wise counselor? What judge isn’t impressed with a passionate advocate? What receptionist doesn’t want to work for a loyal boss?
Ben Franklin and Human Frailty
A poster boy for the “virtuous life” is Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography, he writes that at age 20 he became painfully aware of his personal shortcomings and realized that if he did not get busy with self-improvement he would never attain his life goals.
In his own words: “I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time. I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”
Franklin was well aware that he would never actually reach “moral perfection.” He recognized he was as flawed as the rest of us. As Yale historian and Franklin biographer Edmund Sears Morgan puts it, the Founding Father was distinctly human and “a man of vast contradictions.”
But he did not let this hold him back. He vowed to try and get a little better every day, then wake up and try again.
The Franklin Methodology
To do this, Franklin came up with a list of 13 virtues:
- Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
- Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
- Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
- Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
- Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
- Industry. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
- Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- Moderation. Avoid extremes.
- Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or habitation.
- Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
- Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Ben Follows Through
Unlike many of us, Franklin didn’t just make a list and call it a day. He took the next step and used that list to craft a daily regimen of self-improvement. He created a ledger in which he recorded (with black or red marks) every instance where he acted in a less than virtuous manner. At night he would evaluate his daily performance.
At age 79, he gave himself a final grade: “Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”
How about you? What virtues would go on your personal list? How about trying to weave those virtues into your daily routine?
Simply by making an effort, you might take your practice to the next level.
- Merriam-Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/virtue
- Benjamin Franklin, by Edmund S. Morgan https://books.google.com/books/about/Benjamin_Franklin.html?id=WjgTv0-XdLYC
- Social Science Research Network http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1877826
- Indiana Law Review https://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/ilr/pdf/vol39p493.pdf
- Marelisa Fabrega http://daringtolivefully.com/ben-franklin-thirteen-virtues
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney who has practiced North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org