Don't Give in Even Once
A review of "Being Happy Healthy Ethical Member of an Unethical group (Lawyers)" by Federal Judge Patrick Schiltz
We live in a world of instant gratification. Where we can have whatever we want, and have it now.
However, the deeper things of life don't work that way. Such as character, and being moral and ethical.
Being and acting ethical and moral is not just something that comes overnight. We can't just wish upon some star and get it. It cannot be suddenly turned on. Instead it is something we must constantly work at. It must start as a habit. It is our habits, not just our desires and thoughts, that will define what we do in various ethical and moral dilemmas and situations.
Because many times you don't have the time to think about a choice. You just make it.
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson
It's all about the little things.
Do not rationalize or do something bad (wrong) even once, no matter how small or “innocent” it may seem. Do not rationalize “I can make it up” or “I'll pay it back later.” Once you start down the wrong road, and develop a habit, it's very hard to go back. Sometimes “impossible.”
"Unethical lawyers do not start out being unethical; they start out just like you — as perfectly decent young men or women who have every intention of practicing law ethically. They do not become unethical overnight; they become unethical just as you will (if you become unethical) — a little bit at a time. And they do not become unethical by shredding incriminating documents or bribing jurors; they become unethical just as you are likely to — by cutting a corner here, by stretching the truth a bit there."
For example, if you tell your boss you worked more hours than you did, you may think yo got away with it, but in reality you have paid a terrible price for those fake hours.<!--more-->
What price? You have made yourself accustomed to lying and on how to be successfully deceptive towards others, and yourself. You have shown yourself you can do unethical things, and yet appear ethical. What's to stop you the next time? Will you suddenly be ethical, or is the temptation to “get away with it” going to be too strong and feel too easy.
Be careful of your surroundings, as they tend to try to influence you. Be aware that other people may only have their own interests in mind when talking to you and entreating you. They will appear and come across as very likable and friendly.
Avoid assumptions. Ask hard questions of yourself and others. Understand what you are getting yourself into. Have a plan of where you want to go in life, and an understanding of what that entails. (Of course it may not work out, but if you have no plan, you're bound to drift.) Understand where your job is taking you, and do not assume you can go from A to B to C. Point B or C may not be friendly to A, which means you may get stuck in A. You need to find it out.
Most of all, decide now that your are going to be ethical and morally responsible. And then act the part in everything you do. “Exactness in all things.” Yet don't be a perfectionist, you are human. Do the best you really can (and you'll know what that really means), and when you start to stumble, pick yourself up, dust off, and try even harder.
"And because your life as a lawyer will be filled with the mundane, whether you practice law ethically will depend not upon how you resolve the one or two dramatic ethical dilemmas that you will confront during your entire career, but upon the hundreds of little things that you will do, almost unthinkingly, each and every day."
Life is filled with lots of mundane things, and really just lots of things. In order to be ethical, it won't depend on one big thing you do, but on what you do by habit. What you are use to. When a ethical or moral choice arises, you don't have time to think about it. You will simply act who you have been acting with all the small things.
If you have been telling the truth in your little conversations, you'll tell it in the big one. If you've been telling lies, you'll tell a lie. If you have been putting family before work on a moment to moment basis, and focusing on them in the little details, when the big temptation comes to put money and work first, you'll say no, and remain an influence in your family.
”Because practicing law ethically will depend primarily upon the hundreds of little things that you will do almost unthinkingly every day, it will not depend much upon your thinking. You are going to be busy, you are not going to have time to reflect on each of your actions. You are going to have to act almost instinctively.
“What this means, then, is that you will not practice law ethically—you cannot practice law ethically—unless acting ethically is habitual for you. You have to be in the habit of being honest. You have to be in the habit of being fair. You have to be in the habit of being compassionate. These qualities have to be deeply ingrained in you, so that you can’t turn them on and off—so that acting honorably is not something you have to decide to do—so that when you are at work, making the thousands of phone calls you will make and writing the thousands of letters you will write and dealing with the thousands of people with whom you will deal, you will automatically apply the same values in the workplace that you apply outside of work, when you are with family and friends.”
"whether you practice law ethically will depend primarily upon the hundreds of mundane things that you will do almost unthinkingly every day. To behave ethically, day in and day out, you need to be in the habit of doing so. Developing the habit of acting ethically is no different from developing the habit of putting on your seat belt or cracking your knuckles: You have to do it a lot."
He goes on to mention how this isn't all of it. You'll be influenced by the culture you're around, and the people you associate. The things they talk about on a daily basis will become to influence you, and may change your way of thinking.
“The system does not want you to apply the same values in the workplace that you do outside of work ... it wants you to replace those values with the system’s values. The system is obsessed with money, and it wants you to be, too. The system wants you—it needs you—to play the game.”
So be careful of ulterior motives at play, as they want to make you (change you) into someone they can manipulate and who will play their game by their rules, while they help themselves at your expense.
"If you are going to practice law ethically, you need to decide now, while you are still in law school, what kind of lawyer you want to be, and then act as that kind of lawyer would act. Always. Everywhere. In big things and small. Do not take that first step toward being an unethical lawyer. I’m telling you—I’m promising you—that sometime during your first couple years of practice, you will be sitting at your desk late at night with your pen poised over your time sheet, and you will be tempted to pad your hours. Padding time sheets is “the perfect crime”; it is profitable for you and it is profitable for the firm and there is virtually no chance that you will get caught. The only thing that will stop you from padding your time sheets is your own integrity."
Notice how he said "I'm promising you". It's as if the ability to be ethical is so hard that it takes a lot of training and desire to make it happen, and as if we think we can magically do it without preparing, practicing, and picking ourselves off the ground when (not just if) we fail at times.
This last part is very important:
"Do not pad your time sheets—even once. And do not tell lies to partners or clients or opposing counsel. And do not misrepresent legal authority to judges. And do not break your promises. And do not do anything else that is contrary to the values you now hold. And finally, when you screw up—as I did, as every lawyer does—pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try that much harder to develop the habit of acting ethically."
It is a hard thing, but isn't everything at first? Yet "that which we persist in becomes easier, not that the nature of the work has changed, but our capacity to do has increased."
You can get the full pdf from Archive.org here.