Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Not Becoming Any More Ethical - Or Sober - Than I was

Allow me a post of pure self-indulgent rant.

In the last few days, and at the direct order of the Supreme Court of Ohio, I've wasted money and time - neither of which I shall ever recover - and I am seriously aggrieved.

I am a lawyer.  I represent people the government wishes to punish.  The punishment, proposed or enacted may be anything from a "Go and sin no more" admonition to an injection of chemicals sufficient to cause death.  Regardless, it is my job to say 
No.  To get to him, to her, to them, you must first get past me.
That person you are after didn't do what you say.  Hell, what you say may not even have occurred.
If she did do something, it was less than you claim, certainly less than you can prove.
Whatever you may prove, or have proved, he deserves less harshness than you would impose.
As I said, that is my job.  I do it willingly, proudly.  I am happy, more than that I am honored to stand on the side of the powerless and the reviled against the powerful.  To bear witness with the leper.

To do that job, to do it well, I must know the law.  I must know statutes and rules and cases.  I must keep abreast.  I must study.  I must figure out new ways, new strategies and tactics.  I want to make the law better, to advance it in ways that protect my clients and ways which, because they protect my clients, also protect those of you who believe (perhaps rightly) that the government would never seek to punish.  This thing we lawyers do is hard.  It takes diligence and work to do it competently.  It takes that and imagination to do it well.

We who care about the work, about the job, put in the hours to learn, to keep up with the statutes and rules and case law, all of which are ever changing.  And we put in the time to share ideas and think of new ways.  And we do it willingly because it is interesting and because it is necessary if we are to do the work properly.

We do that by reading and by talking and by working with colleagues and by attending seminars.  We do it because it's the right thing to do.  Oh, and we do it because the Supreme Court of Ohio, like the licensing authority of nearly every state, says that we must obtain so many hours of continuing legal education every however often. 

In Ohio, that requirement is 15 hours every two years.  It is not onerous.  For 15 hours one attends seminars, sits in a lecture room while speakers pontificate.  Some of those speakers are excellent.  They speak on subjects of direct interest and importance.  Some, of course, are terrible.  It doesn't matter.  One simply needs to be in a room with them for 15 hours every two years.  There are seminars for every legal specialty for every interest.  There is no obligation, however, that the lawyer attend seminars relevant to his interests or practice.  As I said, I am a criminal defense lawyer.  I could satisfy the requirement by paying to attend seminars on mergers and aquisitions - whatever exactly they are.  If I were to pay attention, I might learn.  I am not, however, required to pay attention.  I also don't go to those seminars.

Of course, it's not free.  The seminars have to be approved by the appropriate committee of the Supreme Court.  The providers charge - rather a lot.  It is, for many providers, a cash cow.  And for the lawyers?  Every two years I am required to report on my CLE attendance.  Typically, I report somewhere around 100 hours.  Most serious lawyers, I think, report far more than the required 15 hours.  We spend the time because we know that we need to learn and keep up and . . . .

There are, of course, those lawyers who do not care.  They know enough, they think.  A quick check here or there, perhaps.  The case can be pled.  The appeal can be sloughed off.  Hell, the guy's probably guilty of something.  And a quick buck to take to the bar or to buy tickets to the game.  They, too, get their 15 hours every two years.  They, too, pay the fees to sit in the room where the lecture is occurring.  Perhaps they read the newspaper or do crossword puzzles or study a transcript or read a best seller.  Perhaps they sleep.  There is no test.  The requirement is, once again, attending, not learning.

Actually, it's not just any 15 hours.  Of the 15, at least 1 hour must be devoted to legal ethics.  That's to make lawyers be ethical.  After all, for an hour every two years they are in a room while someone drones on about it.  Really, it's a wonder that any lawyer ever gets in trouble we're all so steeped in the ethical requirements.

Also, at least 1 hour must be devoted to professionalism.  Whatever exactly that is and however precisely it differs from ethics.  At the end, we can be sure that we will all act professionally.  Ethical and professional. It's why the public thinks so well of lawyers.  

And at least half an hour must be devoted to what they call "substance abuse education."  An addict speaks about addiction or a therapist talks about how to recognize when the lawyer down the hall is an alcoholic or drug abuser.  And how to stage an intervention.  Which we all do, of course, at every opportunity.  Right before we run off to the bar.

My reporting period is the end of this year.  By the end of last week I had well over 90 hours or my mandated 15.  I did not, however, have my hour of professionalism training or my half hour of substance abuse education.  Now I do.  I am no more (or less) professional than I was.  I am no more or less likely to abuse substances or to turn in those who do.  But I have lost chunks of my time.  And I have paid for the privilige.  Not to learn.  Not to be a better lawyer.  But so that the Supreme Court of Ohio can proclaim that it does a bang up job ensuring that Ohio lawyers like me are professional and ethical and don't abuse substances or tolerate it when others do.

It is, plainly, bullshit.  And it pisses me off.  But it makes money for the providers.  And it lets the Supreme Court lie to the public about what fine gals and guys we all are, we members of the bar.

Excuse me while I throw up.  And have another sip of single malt.

1 comment:

  1. Mr Gamso,

    I hope your intake of rum, or whatever your poison be, renders your impervious to the callousness of their actions.

    Were I ever in a position to require counsel for the type of cases you deal with; well if I were religious I would pray that you would be the counsel assigned to me.