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Advisory team looks at law issue

July 11, 2001

When Shakespeare wrote, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” in “Henry VI,” he may have been alluding to a dislike for their tactics.

Lawyers have been criticized for years for lacking professionalism.

This criticism has spurred Lansing’s Cooley Law School to form an advisory group to address the issue of professionalism. The group consists of local lawyers, judges, Cooley’s alumni association, adjunct professors, students and John Berry, the executive director of the State Bar of Michigan.

The group hopes to establish character requirements for students, faculty and staff.

Cooley Dean Don LeDuc said lack of professionalism is a national concern. He said the decision to form the group came from discussions with other law school deans.

“(Professionalism) is adhering to a professional set of standards - it could be practices, it could be what some people call a lack of civility,” he said.

LeDuc said drug and alcohol abuse are some of the subjects that will be covered by the organization.

“The program is getting people to think their primary mission is serving their client and not themselves,” he said.

Michael Lawrence, associate dean for Academic Affairs at MSU-Detroit College of Law, said he commends Cooley for its efforts.

“Anytime we can increase the awareness of professionalism as lawyers and lawyers in training is a good thing,” he said.

MSU-DCL offers training for law students to develop professional skills, Lawrence said. The classes are called professional responsibility classes and all students are required to take them.

Lawrence said professors are directed to integrate discussions on ethics, standards and decorum into their classes.

“Sometimes people in law get a bad rap, but there are a lot of highly respectable people practicing the law and I applaud what Cooley is doing,” he said.

One area that has received criticism is the lack of decorum of young lawyers in court. Respect for the court and its procedures seems to be something judges are concerned about.

Richard Ball, chief judge of the 54-B District Court, 101 Linden St., said judges are noticing a decline in civility.

“Respect for the courts as an institution needs to improve,” he said. “There needs to be an emphasis on civility and its relationship to sound law practice in law schools, and the judges have to be willing to apply the rules that govern the practice of law.”

But Andrew Abood, a graduate of Cooley and member of the Abood Law Firm, 117 E. Allegan St. in Lansing, said he doesn’t perceive a problem in the industry.

“In comparison to other professions, 99 percent of the time lawyers that you deal with maintain high ethics,” he said. “That other 1 percent of the time, it seems to ruin it for everyone else.”

However, Abood said the idea of improvement couldn’t hurt. The results of the committee, he said, may change old stereotypes.

“What they are going to find is that the standards that lawyers have from day-to-day practice is very high,” he said.

While these concerns seem real, pre-law senior Christina Ayoub said she hasn’t encountered students who lack professionalism.

But the standards and practices the group hopes to focus on are very important to Ayoub, and don’t just carry weight in the field of law.

“It is important in any professional career, as a businessman or as a doctor,” she said.

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