Lawyers are not trustworthy.
Whew, I am glad to get that off my chest. Now wait, before you start in on the claims that I have a bias against some opposing counsel who broke the rules, let me at least say that the statement above is not of my own crafting. In fact, I would say that the vast majority of attorneys with whom I have dealt have been not only trustworthy and ethical, but dedicated to their clients and focused on providing the best service possible.
No, the characterization of lawyers above comes from none other than the State Bar of California, the governing body for lawyers. As it says on the State Bar’s website, “The mission of the State Bar: ‘Preserve and improve our justice system in order to ensure a free and just society under the law.'”
So why is it that I am letting you in on the little known secret that the State Bar thinks its attorneys cannot be believed? Because the State Bar does not trust its own members.
An attorney’s practice of law is evolving; it is never stagnant. An attorney must keep learning and adapting to changes in laws, procedures, and disciplines. To ensure this, the State Bar requires each attorney to complete a minimum of 25 hours of continuing legal education every 3 years. The education can be in any subject, so long as the three required subjects of substance abuse, elimination of bias and ethics are taken and every third year attorneys have to certify, under penalty of perjury, that they have completed the requisite continuing education hours.
The mandatory hours of education can be met in a number of methods, including self-study and attending programs that present the material. Going to a program or reading a book on the material can be time consuming and inconvenient. No doubt the program you want to go to happens to coincide with the due date of a brief, a vacation, or a networking lunch. So, to make it easier, some of the bar associations sell compact disks which contain all 25 hours of mandatory study (and in the required subjects).
How great is that? You can complete your continuing education while sitting in your car during rush hour, or at the gym on the treadmill, or sitting on the couch after Thanksgiving faking sleep to avoid cleaning up the dishes. It is convenient, cost-effective, and done done done.
No its not. You can still listen to the compact disk in the car during rush hour, just make sure you are in the carpool lane. And you want to download the disk to your iPod and listen while at the gym? Make sure your buddy is on the treadmill right next to you with the other ear bud in his ear. Want to listen after Thanksgiving dinner, better blast it throughout the house. Why?
Because the State Bar doesn’t trust attorneys! The State Bar requires the attorney to listen to the compact discs while in the presence of a witness, and the witness has to certify that the attorney listened to the compact disc. Explain to me how I am supposed to have my 5 year old daughter sign a statement under penalty of perjury that her daddy listened to a compact disc for an hour about preventing sexual harassment in the workplace while under the influence of crystal meth!
Attorneys have always gotten a bad rap; lawyer jokes weren’t just made up, although they may be the product of embellishment along the way. But when you think of the word “ethics” you think of lawyers, for good or bad. And unfortunately, the general public likely believes that the balance of good and bad is fairly even. That is simply not true. It is always the evil few who bring the rest of the good ones down and create the negative stereotype.
However– what kind of message is being sent to the public when the State Bar of California doesn’t even trust the attorneys. If a lawyer says he completed the requisite continuing education, then he completed it and that should be good enough. Why make him or her go through the hassle of finding someone to sit for 25 hours to certify that the continuing education hours were completed?
If the State Bar wants to promote the ethical strength of the law profession and revitalize it so that it is perceived as that bastion of honesty and dignity, then it needs to practice what it preaches.
Attorneys are by and large ethical and trustworthy. Take my word for it.