Every year, the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law honors the attorneys and jurists in the state – from every sector of the practice and every organized bar association. These are the people who have epitomized the highest standards of the profession. To help celebrate the commission’s silver anniversary, a compilation of tips have been collected from the honorees.
1. Respect everyone, even when it appears to be difficult. Disrespect is rarely justified or productive.
2. Be candid to adversaries, courts and clients. Avoid omissions, misrepresentations and misimpressions. A bad truth is better than a good fib.
3. Ask for help. Whether you are a solo practitioner, in government or a big firm, you never need to go it alone in this wonderful profession. Colleagues, whether known from the county or State Bar Association or just from waiting in the court hallways, are always willing to share knowledge and expertise.
4. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat everyone, clients, adversaries, court personnel and the Judiciary as you would like to be treated.
5. Keep up with the law, give of your time and be respectful and candid to everyone.
6. With power and authority comes responsibility. Exercise your power to affect the lives of others in a civil, kind, respectful, fair and considerate manner.
7. Respect is the key to being professional. Respect the position you hold and respect all those with whom you come in contact, even if it is in an adversarial relationship.
8. Fight hard for your clients, but never make it personal.
9. You can argue about the facts, but never attack the person.
10. Follow St. Mother Teresa’s example and words: “God gave you two hands: one to help yourself, one to help others.”
11. Never expose or exploit the shortcomings, infirmities or mistakes of your adversaries or of the court to embarrass or gain an advantage.
12. Treat everyone fairly, impartially and justly, all the time and everywhere, without regard to their position, status or role in the proceedings.
13. Strive to perfect the time-honored notions of preparedness, skill, and professionalism. Although zealous advocacy is a lawyer’s responsibility, the ability to assist a client with these ideals as a primary focus is what makes one a noble professional.
14. Win or lose, being a lawyer gives you the opportunity to be a true champion – someone who defends or stands up for others – every day of your professional life, and to do so with courage, integrity and civility.
15. Always strive— regardless of who you represent— to fairly and honorably seek justice for your client on an even playing field.
16. Quoting John Wooden, the famous men’s basketball coach at UCLA, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are”.
17. As professionals, we are equal before the law, and measured only by our abilities and character.
18. Your adversary of today is often your friend and colleague of tomorrow.
19. Be punctual, prepared and polite.
20. Be the lawyer you would want to hire.
21. Return phone calls promptly.
22. Be accessible to adversaries, court staff, clients and others.
23. Be a mentor and guide others when you can.
24. Engage in pro bono work, following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s advice to “Do something outside yourself, something to repair tears in your community, something to make life a little better for those less fortunate than you.”
25. Above all, just do the right thing.