Professional courtesy. When is the last time you’ve used that phrase, or heard it as anything other than the punchline of a lawyer joke?
For me, professional courtesy is one of the aspects of being a lawyer that I most enjoy. Like giving a free consultation to a client sent my way by a colleague. Or sponsoring an out-of-jurisdiction lawyer for pro hac vice admission, which is something I routinely do without pay (so long as I’m not required to appear in court). Or helping a new lawyer understand the rules of the courts where I practice. (As an aside, activities that may adversely impact another lawyer’s client fall outside the scope of professional courtesy, in my book. Like covering cases).
Occasionally on some of the listservs where I participate, lawyers will suggest to newbies that they hire a lawyer to serve as a mentor and teach them the ropes. And notwithstanding that I recognize that law is a business as well as a profession, my stomach turns when once complimentary perks of being a member of a profession – like mentorship, pro hac vice motions and complimentary consults – are converted into business transactions.
Coming of age in a profession where law firm partners hoard work rather than train newbies to handle it and where (as evidenced by my listserv) new lawyers are expected to pay for advice once rendered freely, it’s no wonder that so many lawyers are reluctant to ask colleagues for help. And our profession suffers because of it.
For 2011, resolve to help another lawyer out, somehow. Let a new lawyer know that you’d be happy to eyeball a motion to see if it complies with the court rules. Insist that your colleague put away his checkbook when he asks for help with a pro hac vice motion. Ask a new solo how the practice is going. And most importantly, don’t do any of this with the expectation of getting referrals or generating good karma. Do it instead because professional courtesy for lawyers should be something more than the punchline to a bad joke.