Anyone still wondering whether the practice of law is a profession or a business need look no further than page 41 of the latest N.C. State Bar Journal.
The Summer 2012 issue puts four proposed ethics opinions before the bar for feedback. The subject matter is as follows:
- Using client testimonials in lawyer advertising (Proposed 2012 Formal Ethics Opinion 1);
- Preparing business contracts for parties in mediation (Proposed 2012 F EO 2);
- Charging late fees on delinquent client accounts (Proposed 2012 FEO 3);
- Screening laterally hired attorneys who formerly represented an adverse organization (Proposed 2012 FEO 4).
If any of these topics interest you, grab the Bar Journal – or go to the State Bar’s website – and start reading. Afterward if you feel strongly one way or another, take a moment to share your thoughts with the Ethics Committee. Most ethics proposals slip under the radar without generating much notice or reaction. Your comment is guaranteed to get attention.
But it is not the purpose of this post to parse the possibilities of these proposals. It is, instead, to simply point out the single common thread that runs through them all – to wit, commerce.
All four opinions deal in different ways with the business aspects of practicing law. Marketing. Billing. Collections. Contracts. Hiring.
In fact it might appear to an outsider that the agency that drafted them was one concerned with the regulation of ordinary businesses, not a learned calling such as the law.
With one big difference. You, the practicing lawyer, have a voice in the matter. You can weigh in with your comments, or if you feel particularly fired up you can attend the next Ethics Committee meeting, which is public. You can even run for State Bar Council and start writing the rules yourself.
Such is the beauty of self-regulation. And this, in the end, is what makes what we do special. We are not just making widgets or selling paper products. We are guiding people through the most important decisions of their lives. We are making a difference.
We are sometimes literally a client’s last best hope. If you think this is overly dramatic, spend an afternoon in any trial courtroom in the state. You will see that what practicing lawyers do is not always fun and is sometimes downright dirty. But it is a noble calling and a privilege nonetheless.
That’s why they are called professionals.
Jay Reeves is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. He has practiced in both states and was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He writes the Risk Man column of practice pointers and risk management tips. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 919-619-2441.