I recently read a book titled “The Significant Lawyer – The Pursuit of Purpose and Professionalism” authored by William S Duffey Jr, a retired District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Prior to his appointment as a District Judge, Duffey was a partner in King & Spalding in Atlanta, an international law firm with over 1200 lawyers in their 23 offices worldwide.
Having experience of both perspectives from the Bar and Bench, the book is essentially a product of the author’s personal experiences on the culture and challenges within the legal profession. The author opines that it takes dedication, determination and commitment for a lawyer to live by the oath taken when admitted to practice. The author also takes the view that the right priorities must be adopted by lawyers from the outset. By choosing this career-path, a lawyer embraces the practice of law as a profession and commits to serve others with integrity, competence and compassion. The outcome of this is a lawyer who discovers fulfilment and significance in the practice of their profession and the profession will ultimately stand to gain from it.
The historical reality of the profession is however somewhat different. Many young lawyers entering the world of legal practice often believe in the high ideals of the profession and try to merge their respective personal values with these ideals. However, these ideals and values often start eroding after some time to make way for the solitary practical priority in private legal practice – profit.
In the mid-80s, lawyers begun to measure success solely by the profits they generated as that is how the top management of firms measured one’s accomplishment of success. This resulted in the law becoming more of a business instead of a profession. The cornerstone of the industry: integrity, efficiency, and strong client relationships started disintegrating and falling apart. Lawyers often found themselves professionally unfulfilled and their commitment to justice, fair play, and respect to the profession started to lose its meaning, slowly but surely. As a result, the logical conclusion that the author observed was that many lawyers found legal practice to be different from what they envisaged it to be as they were unable to strike a balance between their personal values and the harsh monetary demands that were required to be met by the industry.
Aligning Personal and Professional Values
I am the managing partner of my firm – Halim Hong & Quek and thus, to ensure the sustainability of the firm, enlarging both revenue and the growth of the firm is my priority. However, upon self-reflection, pursuit of profit is not the only priority because not all lawyers can align with this sole value in their practice life. This is the challenge that I face! How should I balance and align the personal and professional values of all lawyers in this journey of growth?
At HHQ, we value integrity, quality, speed, transparency, participation, stewardship and growing together. With these core values, how should HHQ lawyers align their personal values with the firm.
Personal values govern one’s life. These consist of family life and spiritual commitment. Personal values can include a commitment to public and community service. Other personal values may include creative processes, teamwork, collaboration and work autonomy.
How can these personal values align with professional values? There are various ways one can achieve this. For example, if you enjoy business, you may choose to enter the realm of corporate and commercial practice. If you value honesty, then you would have expectations for your clients to be honest with you. Only when these two sets of personal and professional values align, you will find fulfilment in your practice.
How do I align my personal and professional values? Personally, I believe in using legal knowledge and skills that I learned from my education and practice to help and serve people. I also believe that legal systems were designed for people to seek justice and it is incumbent upon lawyers to achieve justice and fairness for our clients. I hold the value that clients could only be best served with timely and practical quality legal services. I believe in working hard while continuously ensuring that I put in my best efforts to upgrade my skills and knowledge. I feel relieved when I can bring out the best of my teammates and colleagues and thus, I believe in stewardship to cultivate the future partners and employees of HHQ.
Duty Before Profit
For as long as I am in legal practice, I must ensure that I do all I can to uphold my duty to the judiciary which is to give due respect and to avoid any conduct that undermines the integrity of the adjudicative process. I must achieve that whilst maintaining my duty to my clients which I aim to achieve by acting in good faith and in their best interest at all times. Emphasizing profit per partner and revenue for the firm must come after this priority. Legal practice is an admission to a noble profession and it must be given its due appreciation. These ought to be the shared values of all lawyers, and the foundation of a lawyers’ conduct and service to others.
Being a key management member of my firm, I must always stick to the practice of treating all my lawyers fairly and everyone must be given a fair shot. If lawyers disagree with the values the firm seeks to cultivate, their input in that regard would be listened and appreciated. However, it is important to ensure that lawyers do not make demands to the extent of trying to recalibrate the firm’s values as per his or her own personal views. This of course is a challenge to lawyers in determining their values and align their conduct accordingly. Once lawyers take position of their value, they must commit to learning, growing, and becoming the most aligned lawyers as they can.
Aligning both conduct and career with personal values, passion, and interest in work that one loves is important as it will allow lawyers to align their own values and priorities with the shared values of the profession. I am in full agreement with the author that this is the best way to achieve professional satisfaction and gratification as when purpose meets professionalism, one would be en-route to being a significant lawyer.
This article is intended to be informative and not intended to be nor should be relied upon as a substitute for legal or any other professional advice.
About the Author
Dato’ Quek Ngee Meng
Halim Hong & Quek