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25 Brief [i] (1995-1996)

handle is hein.journals/tbrief25 and id is 1 raw text is: Walter H. Beckham III


In my last column I shared with
you the sound vet simple advice of
Mahala Ashley Dickerson of Anchor-
age, Alaska, one of this year's recipi-
ents of the Margaret Brent Women
Lawyers of Achievement Award. I
have since read a brief autobiography
of this remarkable woman. Once again
I want to share with you some of her
words of wisdom: I proudly state
that as I look back over my clientele
list, every client that I have represent-
ed was financially better off when the
case ended than when the case came
to me. Even though I myself may not
have benefitted. I would have felt
guilty if I had been enriched and the
client had not.
If collectively we could make that
same statement, I do not believe we
would be faced with the breakdown in
the public trust which confronts our
profession today-the trust of uphold-
ing the comm6n good, which is larger
than our own individual welfare.
To deny that the public trust is in
jeopardy would be foolhardy. Not
long before his death this past June
former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger
complained in a speech: The standing
of lawyers is at the lowest level ever.
In a recent survey for U.S. News &
World Report, 56 percent of those
polled said that lawyers use the sys-

tem to enrich themselves. Moreover,
client complaints about lawyers are
According to the ABA's own fig-
tires, approximately 110,000 com-
plaints (many of them over fees) were
filed against lawyers in 1992 with dis-
ciplinary bodies in 41 states and the
District of Columbia. This is double
the number of complaints in 1986. Not
surprisingly the picture drawn by the
1992 ABA Hart Survey shows a public
perception of a profession that has
become, at worst, contemptuous, and
at best, indifferent, to the people it
seeks to serve.
The public's disenchantment is
with the culture of our profession,
which has become all too preoccupied
with the bottom line. To make matters
worse, this preoccupation has invari-
ably fostered the notion that we as
lawyers are all competitors. This has
compounded the problem. It also
seems to have diverted what should
be our focus: our responsibility to soci-
ety to enhance the good of the whole.
We must remember that the prac-
tice of law is about more than how we
make a living, how we succeed, and
how we discharge our responsibilities.
It is also about the style and spirit with
which we do these things. It is about
who we are and how we treat other

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people. Our independence that we so
jealously guard, an individualism that
is noble in many ways because it
bespeaks of our enterprise and
strength and responsibility to our
clients, must be balanced by our
appreciation of the social fabric. Ve
must measure and judge greatness
both by our capacity to be kind as well
as energetic.
One of the things that has always
identified a learned profession is its
concern for more than making money.
Our young lawyers seem to know this
intuitively, and, fortunately, they
appear to be at the forefront in the
fight to stem the tide of materialism in
our profession. As noted in the 1990
State of the Legal Profession Report by
the ABA Young Lawyers Division,
money is less important now to young
lawyers as a factor affecting overall job
satisfaction than it was in 1984.
To better sustain and enlarge the
public trust and uphold the common
good, we must continually ask our-
selves what we are about fundamen-
tally as lawyers. We must continually
reassess how we measure the worth of
our work.
As a community of professionals,
we must strive to emphasize the inter-
nal rewards of service, craft and char-
acter as the primary rewards of our
work. We also must remember that
client care is an integral part of our
job, and that part of that care is in
learning to become a better listener.
Look for and be sensitive to the fact
that your client's problems typically
have an economic, psychological or
spiritual component. Strive to settle
the whole of the problem and in doing
so you will affirm that our profession
is more than a business.
When we truly begin to stand for
something more than our own unbri-
dled self-interest we will regain the
confidence of the American public. Let
us begin that process now by chang-
ing our purpose and culture from the
bottom line to that of the larger public

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