Thursday, November 2, 2006

Pro Bono Awardee in California Helps Cancer Patients on Law: The Affirmative Ethics of a 'Profession'

        Much is said, understandably, here and at Legal Ethics Forum about the "negative" side of professional responsibility--prohibitory rules authored by the ABA, disciplinary enforcement by state bars, sanctions imposed by judges, ineffective criminal defense under the Constitution, etc.  But it's easy to ignore the more affirmative side of legal ethics, those positive steps and sacrifices that are as much a claim to being a "professional" as mere compliance with negative Model Rules.  Ethics can't be just about what not to do.  It's about conduct as much as misconduct.  I find myself teaching the PR class with dreams of the time and attention span of students to get into this more affirmative angle on professionalism.  And I wonder how many law teachers out there have successfully incorporated it into their course. 
        Meanwhile, here is an example of the kind of professionalism I am talking about. L.A. attorney Christine Hayashi, at age 51, won the 'California Young Lawyers Association Award,' for her pro bono legal representation of cancer patients. [Here is her story in November's on-line California Bar Journal.]  Cancer patients don't just have tough medical problems; their legal issues include custody matters, insurance, and estate planning.  And sadly, "She’d get calls from cancer patients whose bosses wanted to fire them when they returned to work after medical leave."
        Another story in that issue covers all sorts of other pro bono award honorees on matters such as corporate law, representation of Muslims, prosecution of an Argentine war criminal, and Part D prescription rules.  The "newly admitted" winner, Nicholas Baran of S.F., is 54.  The solo-practice winner is 55, also as a second career.  One winner is 82.  Trend?
       State bars ought to do more to get out the public story on such people and worry less about advertising and blogging.  There is a positive, affirmative side to being a professional, and incidentally it is better press than picayune prohibitions and petty sanctions.  [Alan Childress]

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This is a great post. I try to make this point in my Professional Responsibility class by showing a film called "Legal Heroes". It tells three stories about lawyers using their education to promote their vision of the public good--the lawyer who represented Rosa Parks, a sole practice lawyer who won the Gault case in the Supreme Court, and a partner at a large firm who has dedicated a part of his career to helping the homeless.

Posted by: Mike Frisch | Nov 2, 2006 11:55:52 AM

I am a friend of a colon-rectal cancer patient who is being hounded by debtors. Is there any way to get legal help for her? She is living only on state disability, is hostipalized with no forseeable end to her treatment. She is primarily on morphine, and unable to make much sense at this point. She has no living relatives.

Posted by: Kathy West | Oct 31, 2008 11:28:10 AM

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