What is Professionalism?

Last week I had the privilege of being this year’s recipient of the Edward Shea Professionalism Award given by the Maryland Bar Foundation. The award, created in 1996, was named in honor of Baltimore attorney and past president of the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA), the late Edward F. Shea, Jr. The award recognizes a MSBA young lawyer who exemplifies the professionalism, civility, integrity, compassion, and commitment to public service embodied by Mr. Shea throughout his career. What an enormous honor! 🙂 In my acceptance speech I talked about what professionalism means to me and how my views of professionalism have been shaped by my work in the MSBA and my experiences with so many of my esteemed colleagues who have exhibited an admirable dedication to our profession through their work in the bar. Here are a few excerpts of my speech that I believe accurately reflect what professionalism means to me:

This award means so much to me because it is such a great honor to serve my profession, and also a real blessing when others recognize my efforts.

As you know, as lawyers we perform many different functions – we are advocates, we are counselors, we are negotiators, and we are conciliators. But perhaps our most significant role is that as members of the legal system, we are officers of the court. As officers, we have a special responsibility to our legal system. Our profession has been granted the power of self-regulation. We are part of an industry where the rules are made by lawyers, enforced by lawyers, and ultimately interpreted and decided by lawyers. It is essential that our profession maintain our ability of self-governance and not be influenced by government entities that may be driven by public opinion or popular issues of the day. Lawyers must demonstrate that we are capable of self-regulation in order to maintain the public’s confidence in the system. How do we do that you ask?

We have the responsibility of making sure that our conduct as lawyers comports with our requirements under the Maryland Lawyers Rules of Professional Conduct. Adherence to these Rules assists us in maintaining a positive public perception of our legal system and further ensures civility and confidence in the legal process. As a legal community we should expect members of our profession to reflect the highest integrity that that we should also expect of ourselves. Neglect of any of these responsibilities would compromise the autonomy that we have enjoyed as well as the public interest which it serves.

Being a lawyer is one of my greatest accomplishments. And being a lawyer means more to me than just completing the work for which I get paid. It is about committing to the values that I swore to uphold. We must all continue in the path and follow in the footsteps of individuals like Mr. Edward Shea, also known as the “Father of Professionalism,” a man who made remarkable contributions to our bar and several others like him by rededicating ourselves to those values, principles, and ideals that we cherish.

Thank you……from the bottom of my heart.

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