Yes, many of us who work at the Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law have experienced what you are about to experience… your first day as a working legal professional [or for many of our 2L and 3L students, your return to the classroom this semester after experiencing life in the legal world of work over the summer]. You might ask why I put it that way; being a working legal professional. As all of you heard during Orientation either last week or 1-2 years ago, you are now legal professionals. Your work has just begun. Welcome to the world of thinking, analyzing, writing, synthesizing, and becoming a legal professional.
So, what differentiates a legal professional from a non-professional? Some of you might immediately say that you are no longer a paralegal or you no longer work in education, political science, or another profession as you move into the field of legal studies. Differences between the various professions are apparent. The legal field has its own ideals and they will soon become yours.
The Florida Bar started to define the term professionalism in 1990 and has redefined it many times since then. On May 16, 1990, The Florida Bar Board of Governors adopted the following attributes as aspirational guidelines:
1) a commitment to serve others;
(2) being dedicated to the proper use of one’s knowledge to promote a fair and just result;
(3) endeavoring always to enhance one’s knowledge and skills;
(4) ensuring that concern for the desired result does not subvert fairness, honesty, respect and courtesy for others with whom one comes into contact, be they fellow professionals, clients, opponents, public officials, including members of the judiciary, or the public;
(5) contributing one’s skill, knowledge and influence as a lawyer to further the profession’s commitment to serving others and to promoting the public good, including efforts to provide all persons, regardless of their means or the popularity of their causes, with access to the law and the judicial system;
(6) educating the public about the capabilities and limits of the profession, specifically what it can achieve and the appropriate methods of obtaining those results; and
(7) accepting responsibility for one’s own professional conduct as well as others in the profession, including inculcating a desire to uphold professional standards and fostering peer regulation to ensure each member is competent and public-spirited.
For today, as you attend your first full class for the semester, remember that you need to maintain the highest standards of academic integrity as a legal professional. That includes being prepared, doing your own work, and respecting an atmosphere that fosters the open exchange of ideas in the classroom. As you move into your second year of law school you’ll learn much more about legal ethics and professionalism. Stay focused and enjoy the journey.