Years ago, I attended a seminar where the late Attorney Harry M. Philo was one of the speakers. I don’t remember where the seminar was or who the other speakers were, but I will never forget one thing that this very prominent lawyer said, “The primary social responsibility of personal injury lawyers is to prevent accidents and reduce the number of injuries. It is only when we fail in this responsibility that we move to our secondary responsibility of obtaining compensation for our clients.” This message was one of social responsibility and giving back to the community, two things we should take seriously throughout our careers.
Social responsibility is an ethical ideology that focuses on individuals’ obligations to act for the benefit of society as a whole as opposed to acting solely for their own interests. As attorneys, it is our responsibility. As a lawyer, I feel pride when I am able to achieve a good result for a client. I’m also proud of the fact that I am part of a profession that advocates for the general public’s rights and safety. It is one thing as a personal injury attorney to obtain compensation for an injured plaintiff but it is another thing altogether to advocate for a change in the law or raise public awareness to prevent accidents and injuries. This same message applies to all attorneys throughout every practice area: it is our job to successfully advocate for our clients, but it is our social responsibility to act for the benefit of society as a whole.
“Giving back” is a simple phrase with which all law students and lawyers are undoubtedly familiar and it represents another important responsibility we have as attorneys. We have a responsibility to work to benefit the public and ensure access by all to the justice system. Giving back to the community can take many forms, including monetary pledges, donations of time to community events, and pro bono legal services.
One organization that comes to mind when thinking of an attorney’s responsibility to his or her community is the Milwaukee Justice Center (MJC). MJC is a volunteer-based organization focused on meeting the legal needs of Milwaukee County’s low-income population by providing services and resources. Among the services MJC provides is the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinic, which gives Marquette Law Students an opportunity to embrace their responsibility as young legal professionals by teaming up with volunteer attorneys from the Milwaukee area to give back to their community in the form of free legal services and advice to the underprivileged.
In our busy lives, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the only reason our profession exists is to help our clients and society in general. The Milwaukee Justice Center offers an opportunity to give either financially or of our time or both. Let’s continue to step up to the plate for the public good and fulfill our professional obligations.
Attorney Michael F. Hupy is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Marquette University graduate. He focuses on injury law at his firm, Hupy and Abraham, S.C., and supports many safety programs, including the Hupy and Abraham “Watch for Motorcycles” Awareness Program and other community organizations. In 2011, the firm donated over $150,000 to more than 100 local organizations.
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