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What I learned at the Maryland professionalism course

Sometimes it is hard to remember why I joined the profession of law. I spend a lot of time zealously representing my clients in all things business law and it is easy to get caught up in the current case I am litigating or argument I am making. It is easy to forget how honorable our profession is (or should be) when my competitive juices are flowing, when I want to notch another court victory under my belt, and when my clients are seeking a favorable result.

Occasionally, I am reminded that being an attorney is a privilege.

For four days in the late spring and early winter, newly admitted Maryland attorneys must participate in a day-long professionalism course administered by the Maryland Court of Appeals. We all remember being a part of this class in one form or another. We all spent a morning and afternoon hearing about our ethical obligations to the profession, civility in the law and being stewards of the court. I recall sitting through the program more eager to show someone my legal prowess than to show them my civility; however, this course was necessary in order to get sworn in.

Fast forward several years and I am now on the other side of the table. I spent a couple of afternoons with two pillars of the Maryland Legal Community talking with new admittees about civil litigation. I spoke about finding the right client, building one’s reputation and the need for communication. After I completed my talk, Pillar of Legal Community 1 covered discovery and Pillar of Legal Community 2 spoke about courtroom conduct. Pillar 2 ended the program with a brief discussion on the profession of law, each of our places in this profession and the future of our practice.

And as she spoke, I was reminded of why I became a lawyer in the first place. Our education and knowledge allows us to help people, whether it is a dispute with a competing business or someone who needs to navigate probate court. We are the gatekeepers to the law and the protectors of the rule of law. Despite the myriad of lawyer jokes (which I believe take away from our profession, though a fellow blogger disagrees), lawyers provide an important role in the fabric of society. For every state’s attorney protecting citizens from crimes, there are defense attorneys and public defenders protecting individual rights and civil liberties.

I joined the profession of law to help people. I joined because it is an honorable profession. I joined because a lawyer not only makes a difference for his or her client, but also to the system as a whole. And after a day (or a week or a month) of long hours, argumentative opposing counsel, an overburdened court system and anxious clients, I sometimes forget. Fortunately, sometimes listening to someone speak about something that I already know reminds me of why.