Lawyer jokes exist because almost everyone has had to reach out to an attorney at some time in their life to settle differences, defend their honor, or interpret a legal matter. Attorneys are a part of life. Almost everyone can relate to an experience with a lawyer, and the familiarity and wide scope of services offered by attorneys breeds a fertile playground for jokes. But attorneys take a bad rap. The standard for ethical conduct required of lawyers is the strictest of any profession. Iowa’s Code of Professional Responsibility for attorneys sets a high bar (no pun intended).
As a paralegal, I must know and abide by those same canons listed, with a small departure on the ones that pertain to lawyers only. Because I’m familiar with the integrity of the profession, it came as a shock to me when the Office of Professional Regulation recommended a proposal to allow attorneys to voluntarily suspend their licenses and keep the reasons for doing so a complete secret.
On Friday, August 26, 2011, the Iowa Supreme Court announced that it had considered the recommendation of the Office of Professional Regulation (allowing an attorney to voluntarily suspend his or her license to practice law and keep the information about the suspension confidential). The Court considered the proposal, but rejected it; and rightfully so.
There are numerous reasons why an attorney may want to voluntarily suspend a license to practice law. The attorney may want to go into business with a non-lawyer, and the business may border on a legal practice without actually practicing.
An attorney may enter into another field of employment and maintaining a law license may be impractical. The attorney may not wish to attend the required continuing legal education, a requirement that could be costly amount to sacrificing several hours of time. Attorneys also have to pay fees to the Client Security Fund. But a lawyer may choose to suspend a license that could have an adverse effect on the public.
A lawyer may choose to suspend his or her license for reasons that the public has a right to know. The most dangerous reason for wanting to keep a voluntary suspension quiet is to avoid publicity of a disciplinary prosecution. The public has a right to know when lawyers are being punished, and for the grounds surrounding that punishment, even if the punishment is a slap on the wrist.
The Court made a wise move by rejecting the proposal. We need more transparency in government – not less. There is no need for those who practice law to be the butt of more jokes.