In early 1991, I was invited by my Alma Mater to comment on an article by Prof. Roger C. Cramton, "The Changing Legal Profession," from IRL Report, Spring 1989, published by Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. My comments, below, were published in the Spring 1991 issue Puget Sound Lawyer (page 8), mailed to alums of University of Puget Sound School of Law (now Seattle University School of Law).


Self-Interest Poisons Professionalism

            Professor Cramton attributes the loss of professionalism perceived by many, though apparently not him, merely to specialization, bureaucracy, and competition. I submit that there is an additional force at work in the decline of professionalism: the growing preoccupation with our individual self-interest. As lawyers we are increasingly making judgments based upon, or excessively influenced by, personal and firm economics rather than traditional professional notions.

            We have come to define lawyerly achievement in terms of the highest billable rates, the highest billings and compensation, the most prestigious and elegant offices, and the fanciest cars. We recognize a firm's rainmakers, not its scholars. Innumerable publications, seminars, and consultants tell us how to market and manage our practices for greater profitability, including how we can make every item of equipment in the law office a "profit center" (charge our clients more than the items cost us). Associates, contract lawyers, and paralegals are commodities valued for their leverage potential. Salary surveys and firm economics surveys are becoming as common as substantive legal surveys, since no lawyer or firm wants to trail the pack on any economic measure.

            This preoccupation with self-interest makes us more aggressive in attracting clients, in guarding them, in "milking" work from them, and in billing them for our services. The pressure to gain more recognition and compensation affects our professional relationships, client relationships, and social relationships. We are more combative in dealing with other lawyers, less objective in serving our clients, especially in conflict situations, and less willing to give our time to public benefit causes. In short, we have become less professional.

            What can we do to change? Remind ourselves regularly that our primary goal should not be simply the same as that of every business -- to make as much money as possible -- but to serve our clients and the public. With that as our collective focus, I am confident we will witness a resurrection of professionalism.

Douglas A. Schafer
Class of 1978