Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
October is Legal Professionalism Month, a time to recommit yourself to demonstrating the highest standards of civility and integrity while promoting public confidence in the profession and the legal system. As guardians of the Rule of Law, lawyers should embody professionalism in all they do. Not only do lawyers serve as representatives of their clients, they serve as officers of the legal system and citizens having special responsibility for the quality of justice. To fulfill these roles, lawyers must make professionalism their intrinsic standard and ideal.
So, what does it mean to be part of a profession? At the outset, being in a profession requires specialized dedication and discipline. In addition, when discussing the legal profession, many refer to the practice of law as carrying a sense of "calling." The concept of the legal profession as a calling suggests that its members invest a special devotion and direction in response to their desire to practice law.
Legal professionals also hold a special role in society. During law school, lawyers become more aware of, and sensitive to, things like political variables, and this awareness makes lawyers important contributors to boards, governments, civic groups, etc. There is an expectation that a legal professional act with integrity in all facets of one's life. Courts expect that legal professionals' obligation to conduct themselves as members of a learned, disciplined, and honorable occupation includes non-professional matters. See, .e.g., Lincoln Rochester Trust Co. v. Freeman, 311 N.E.2d 480, 483 (1974).
Essentially, then, being a part of the legal profession is a privilege gained from an internal desire to commit oneself to the practice of law and a willingness to espouse the virtues of the profession in all aspects of one’s life.
Past Colorado Bar Association President Mark Fogg devoted much of his term to promoting a “professional identity” of lawyers. As he says:
“We take an oath. ‘I will use my knowledge of the law for the betterment of society and the improvement of the legal system. I will never reject the cause of the defenseless.’ We have legal, moral, and ethical duties to others. Last I checked, we don’t have a fiduciary duty to make a profit off of our clients. However, at any partner’s meeting, there is the continuous debate that creates a tension over whether practicing law is a profession or a business. Of course, the reality is that it is partly both. You have to keep the doors open to do any good works. Still, more and more we see the law being treated simply as a business. It’s not. We have the unique opportunity to provide services to others, which have the potential to have an incredible impact on their lives. This is a privilege not given to many.”
As a lawyer, you take an oath to faithfully and diligently adhere to the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct at all times. This means that in your professional and personal capacity you must avoid conduct that reflects adversely on your honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer; or directly, intentionally, and wrongfully harms others. This is a high standard and one that can only be met by embodying professionalism in all that you do.
One easy way to uphold the standards of the legal profession is to seek good role models. Engaging in a meaningful mentoring relationship will compel you to examine your professional identity and more broadly define it to encompass who you are as a lawyer and as a person. The Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program (CAMP) fosters this development by structuring educational engagements between mentors and mentees to create competence in professionalism.
The message to all lawyers in Colorado is clear. To maintain and strengthen the social contract lawyers have with society the profession must socialize each generation of practicing lawyers into the principles of professionalism and the important elements of an ethical professional identity. Join us in this work and visit www.coloradomentoring.org for more resources and to find your professionalism mentor.