While the Virginia State Bar (VSB) exists in part to uphold the ethical standards of today’s legal professionals, many times the bar of professionalism is set too low, according to VSB president, Kevin Martingayle.
On Thursday, April 2, Martingayle spoke to Regent University School of Law students about the importance of upholding ethics and professionalism in advocacy. The event was sponsored by the law school’s Center for Ethical Formation and Legal Education Reform.
According to Martingayle, a lawyer who follows a vague notion of mere ethics still has the opportunity to be a “jerk” during advocacy. He’s seen a lot of young lawyers – himself included – who have fallen into the trap of being too aggressive.
“When the only tool you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” said Martingayle.
Martingayle explained there will be temptation to get an advantage in a court case at any cost. Including simple ways, like denying the opposition an extension on a deadline, or being “snarky” in email exchanges.
While there aren’t always “hard and fast” rules to follow in every legal situation, the advice Martingayle gave to young lawyers was to fight the temptation to act and respond in the moment, particularly online.
Martingayle has even gone so far as to use an unprofessional email from his opposition as an exhibit in the court of law.
“The emotional response is almost never the right response,” said Martingayle. “Choose your words as though everyone is reading them. Don’t ever write something you might regret.”
Martingayle gave advice to students, naming the faux pas he sees on a regular basis from lawyers fresh to the courtroom. His best advice? Calm down and be professional.
“Don’t ever lose your common sense or your manners,” said Martingayle. “When you’re conducting business think about if one of your pastors, your spouse, your parents – the people who want to be proud while they were watching your decisions – would they be?”
Learn more about Regent University School of Law and the Center for Ethical Formation and Legal Education Reform.