Legal Ethics

A Judge’s Advice to New Lawyers: Don’t Be a Jerk

Lawyers don’t need to be jerks, they shouldn’t tell lawyer jokes, and they need to quickly inform clients when bad things happen. And they should consider keeping a diary to remember the war stories.

That’s the advice of Texas Judge Randy Wilson, who wrote a letter to his two children who are about to become lawyers and then shared it with Texas Lawyer.

Wilson says it’s important to tell the truth to clients when mistakes are made, and to courts when arguments are weak. All lawyers occasionally err, and they can learn from their mistakes.

“You’re going to be in this game for the long haul,” he writes. “There’s no shortcut that’s worth it—never. If you have a bad document, produce it. If your client is lying to make his case, fire him. Compromising your conscience just is not worth it. There will be other cases. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: A legal career is a marathon, not a race.”

It’s also important to follow the Golden Rule, he says. “There’s just no reason to be a jerk, and there are lots of reasons to be nice.”

If you treat opposing counsel with courtesy, they could end up referring some business to you, he says. And if you allow them an occasional extension, they may do the same for you. If you throw tantrums in the office, your staff can find plenty of ways to sabotage you.

Be proud to be a lawyer, Wilson says, and that means no lawyer jokes. You’ll accumulate real-life war stories—and you will wish you had written them down. So keep a diary, he says.

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