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South Carolina Law Review



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ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, professionalism, Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism


When it comes to the subject of "professionalism," there is a gap between the leaders of the organized bar and its members. Bar leaders are eager to discuss the subject. For example, this year's annual meeting of the American Bar Association ("ABA") afforded bar leaders, as well as legal academics, a host of opportunities to share strategies to promote "professionalism" and "professional values." The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar sponsored a program on "Professionalism in Law Schools and the Profession." Organizations representing bar executives, bar presidents, and bar foundations jointly presented a program called "Tough Talk, Tough Solutions-Re-establishing Lawyers' Values." The Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism convened a meeting of the National Consortium of Professionalism Initiatives, comprised of representatives of bar associations and ethics and professionalism centers, whose mission includes encouraging lawyer professionalism. In contrast, most practicing lawyers at the annual meeting did not come to discuss professionalism. They came to learn something that they considered useful to their practice, to network with other lawyers, or to enjoy a tax- deductible vacation. In the many programs designed for practitioners, professionalism does not appear to have received much play even when there were opportunities to discuss it. It is hard enough to get practitioners to talk about legal ethics. Although the subject is largely about the law of lawyer regulation, lawyers are uncomfortable with the subject's moral overtones. Moreover, lawyers may be concerned that the "dirty little secrets" of their area of practice-the ways in which their real- world practices appear to depart from the disciplinary rules as written and interpreted by ethics committees-will be revealed and criticized. It is infinitely harder to get practitioners to talk about professionalism. Here, the touchy concept of morality is front and center. Lawyers' practices are even more vulnerable to criticism since lawyers are more likely to disregard "professional values" than disciplinary rules. Further, unlike the question of how to avoid sanctionable conduct, the question of how to act professionally has no direct relevance to lawyers' livelihood since lawyers are not at risk of losing their licenses for conduct that is merely "unprofessional." At best, practitioners may perceive that a discussion of professionalism is of no value; at worst, they might resent paying good money to be preached to or to have their moral judgment impugned. It is much easier to talk to law students about professionalism since they are a captive audience. Practitioners do not have to show up. One can therefore understand why there has been little effort to infuse "professionalism" into bar programs generally, why programs specifically dealing with "professionalism" are clearly labeled, and why participants in those programs perceive that they are preaching to the choir.