President's Page—Together We Can Make A Difference

by Alfred M. Butzbaugh

"Don’t lie, especially to opposing counsel."

"Don’t break your word. If you promise to do something, do it; no matter how much it hurts."

"Live by the spirit of the rules of professional conduct. Don’t treat those rules like the Uniform Commercial Code and try to find a way around them."

Those were my words as I talked to a University of Michigan Law School ethics class last month. Those simple admonitions should be absolutes. We all must follow them. As children, we learned the importance of telling the truth and keeping our word. Why do some forget simple childhood lessons upon admission to the Bar?

Several years ago, I was stunned as I listened to a law school ethics professor talk about how he taught ethics. I learned that he used the Socratic method. I asked whether he taught as absolutes that lawyers should: tell the truth, stand by their word, and abide by the spirit of the RPC. His first response was, of course he did. When I asked how, he equivocated and said it was not his job to teach students to tell the truth; that was the responsibility of parents.

I profoundly disagree with that ethics professor. It is the responsibility of law school ethics professors, as it is the responsibility of practicing lawyers, and the responsibility of sitting judges, to imbue law students and lawyers with the importance of these simple rules.

In law school, we are taught to look at issues from every angle and to explore all of the nuances. We are taught to advocate positions regardless of our personal beliefs. Ethics are different. They are not to be dissected like a statute or case.

A lawyer’s professional ethics are the window to that lawyer’s professional soul. Professional ethics define each of us as a lawyer; just as our personal ethics define each of us as a human being. None of us is perfect. All of us make mistakes. But none of us should ever accept anything less from ourselves than to strive for the highest ethical standard.

Mia, thank you for inviting me to talk to your ethics class. I love you.—Dad