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. Continue reading “Social Responsibility and Giving Back”
When there is a culture of secrecy within a closed group, information generated in and by those individuals can be kept within the confines of the group. This behavior may lead to public harm if a closed group keeps secret information that negatively affects other individuals who are not group members. When a public harm is a possibility, the group must install transparency so as to prevent that harm. While complete transparency might be extremely difficult, there does need to be some concession to candor and accountability. Lawyers, like many other professional groups, are commonly thought of as a closed group. We, like those in other groups, must be vigilant to maintain some transparency. In doing so, we protect and uphold the integrity of our profession while preventing harm to our clients and other citizens. This need for transparency is best illustrated through examples.
An undeniably important example is the recent conviction of Jerry Sandusky on 45 of 48 sexual abuse charges. Continue reading “The Need for Transparency”
“[A] lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.” Taken from paragraph six of the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, this quote sets out our duty to educate the public.
In April 2009, then Wisconsin State Bar President Diane Diel discussed this very quote in a short article published in Wisconsin Lawyer magazine. The article focused on the negative effect judicial elections have on the public’s confidence in the judicial system — discussing current Justice Michael Gableman’s allegedly unethical ad that aired during his campaign against Justice Louis Butler and his subsequent disciplinary hearing — and the ever-controversial topic of judicial recusals, focusing on whether judges should be required to recuse themselves from deciding cases in which they received campaign contributions from an interested party.
Diel’s article seems to have foreshadowed the current turbulence in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has led to plunging confidence in the judicial system. Continue reading “Restoring Public Confidence in the Judicial System”
In the September 2009 issue of the ABA Journal, the author of the article “Town Without Pity,” Wendy Davis, asked, “Where Were the Lawyers?” Judge Mark Ciavarella had been giving jail sentences to juveniles that were shocking to the conscience for minor offenses. All the lawyers in the court system, including the district attorney, knew what was happening, but very few challenged Ciavarella. Barry Dyller, a local Wilkes-Barre attorney quoted in the article, stated that “only the absolute strongest lawyers, who didn’t mind facing his wrath” ever argued with the judge’s decisions. The other defense attorneys, the article notes, appeared resigned to these rulings. Additionally, if there were any lawyers who suspected the judge was taking bribes, there is no record of any stepping forward.
In August 2011, Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison on racketeering charges, among others, in a case that was called “Kids For Cash.” Ciavarella, along with another Luzerne County judge, accepted bribes totaling over $2.6 million from the builder of juvenile detention centers in exchange for sending thousands of children to newly built facilities in order to ensure the facilities would be adequately utilized. Continue reading “Why Were the Lawyers Wearing Blinders?”