Lessons of professionalism

Published 2:27 pm Thursday, September 3, 2009

JACKSON — Despite all the bad jokes that often come with the territory, professionalism is a quality held in high esteem by those who practice law.

On Monday, a discussion about professionalism and how it relates to those in the law field brought the highest ranking court official in the state to Northampton County.

North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker and

Melvin F. Wright Jr., Executive Director the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism, were joined by approximately 70 court officials and practicing attorneys from judicial districts 6A (Halifax County) and 6B (Northampton, Hertford and Bertie counties).

The seminar was a joint continuing legal education (CLE) program for attorneys within the districts entitled “Professionalism in Practice: A Local Perspective.”

“The purpose of the Commission on Professionalism is to enhance the professionalism among judges, lawyers and law students in North Carolina,” Chief Justice Parker said. “The commission has embarked on a number of worthwhile initiatives since its inception.”

Parker said the professionalism program designed by the judges and lawyers of the 6A and 6B judicial districts is an opportunity for them to make new friendships, share old war stories and celebrate the fact that they are members of the legal profession.

The Chief Justice told the crowd that much of what she was going to be speaking about was not anything new to them, but it does them good to stop and reflect on what it means to be a professional in the legal field.

She said there is often confusion by legal professionals when it comes to the definition of the ideas of ethics and professionalism. Ethics is the minimum standard, Parker said, while professionalism is the higher standard expected.

“Many would say professionalism is simply defined like the Golden Rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’,” the Chief Justice said.

She added while the definition of professionalism gives structure to lawyers’ thinking, the manner in which they demonstrate professionalism in their work and conduct is much more significant.

Parker said professionalism encompasses many ideas, including competence, stability, ethics, integrity, commitment to rule of law and, especially, respect for other lawyers, court officials and the public. Last, but not least, she said pro bono public service is another important aspect that goes along with professionalism in the law field.

Parker spoke of how the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism encourages responsibility, not only in the lawyer/client relationship, but also how the legal profession is shaping society at large.

“Where ever we go, and in whatever capacity, we are viewed by the public as lawyers and held either in esteem or distain…which one depends on us,” she said. “And remember the ultimate goal of the law is truth and justice, not winning.”

Parker paid a compliment to those working in districts 6A and 6B.

“I particularly salute those of you who practice law here in rural section of North Carolina because I know that you are a pillar of church and state for the people in the communities of Halifax and Northampton (Hertford and Bertie counties),” she said.

Executive Director Wright, a native of Elizabeth City, talked about the purpose of the program.

“This is exactly what we envisioned for this program, we’ve had these all over the state, but we like for it to be a celebration of the practice of law,” he said.

Wright also spoke about the importance of attorneys mentoring each other.

“People recognize that we need to be sure that new lawyers have mentors, have people who have been around for a little while, know how the system works and who can help them navigate through the system,” he said.

He added many of the volunteering bar associations have mentoring programs.

The audience heard tales from the courtroom from Buddy Jones with Baker Jones Law Office in Ahoskie and Woodland attorney Luther B. Culpepper IV.

Chief (6B) District Court Judge Alfred W. Kwasikpui and 6B District Attorney Valerie Asbell also shared their perspectives with their fellow court officials and lawyers. Other 6B judical officials in the audience included District Court Judge Thomas R. Newbern and Judge William R. Lewis II.