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Integrity in the Legal profession

Last night, I attended a reception for the alumni of my former firm, Fulbright & Jaworski. As I looked around the room, I was flooded with warm feelings for my former colleagues. Fulbright recruited me when I was at the University of Texas law school. From the time I agreed to accept my position there to the time I left over a decade later, I was treated as a treasured professional.

By the time I joined Fulbright, it had spent almost a century building its reputation as a firm of lawyers who practiced law with integrity. At the new lawyer orientation, one of the partners explained that we were the beneficiaries of this reputation, and that we were expected to protect that reputation zealously. Just weeks after I arrived, I realized that this reputation was a gift; the court leaned in and listened a bit more closely to me after I announced my firm’s name.

The public often jokes about lawyers, and typically the punch line borrows from the stereotype that lawyers are corrupt and mercenary. Litigators using Rambo tactics gain headlines. What the public may not know is that the judges and other lawyers know which lawyers fit the stereotype, and those lawyers and their clients flounder because no one gives them a break.

The reception last night just reminded me that my basic philosophy regarding my career was born and raised at Fulbright:

  • Call your clients back the same day they call you;
  • Do not show up at a meeting or for court until you are prepared;
  • Do not hedge in your opinions; provide straight talk about the strengths and weaknesses of your clients’ case;
  • Do not make personal attacks on your opposing counsel or party;
  • Do not just tell your client “no.” Understand the ultimate goal; if it is not possible to reach that goal in the way your client has suggested, then find a creative solution to the problem;
  • Work as a team with your clients – if they look good, then so do you; and
  • Enjoy the practice of law and treat your ability to practice law as a privilege.

Thanks to Fulbright for teaching me these things! Although I have now formed my own firm, these tenets remain the foundation of my practice.