And Diligence for All!

In November 2017, I posted The 50 Original Rules.  It’s a recap of the history of the conduct rules that apply to lawyers.

As best as I can tell, the earliest record of guidelines for attorney conduct in the United States is David Hoffman’s 1836 publication of his Fifty Resolutions in Regard to Professional Deportment.  My post includes each of Hoffman’s 50 resolutions.

182 years later, it’s somewhat fascinating to me how many of Hoffman’s resolutions continue to resonate.  Many are embedded in the rules and our collective professional conscience.  Given my fascination, I’ve resolved to blog about the continued relevance of Hoffman’s resolutions, taking them one at a time.  So far:

  1. Don’t be a jerk.
  2. Don’t switch sides.
  3. Don’t overcomplicate trust accounting.
  4. Deliver the file
  5. Resolve to be a mentor

Today’s thought:  “And Diligence for all!”

Here’s Hoffman’s 23rd resolution:

  • “23.    In all small cases in which I may be engaged I will as conscientiously discharge my duty as in those of magnitude; always recollecting that ‘small’ and ‘large’ are to clients relative terms, the former being to a poor man what the latter is to a rich one; and, as a young practitioner, not forgetting that large ones, which we have not, will never come, if the small ones, which we have, are neglected.”

To me, #23 is a resolution to comply with the duty of diligence . . . in every single matter.  

This should go without saying, but in 20 years of screening & investigating disciplinary complaints, I’ve heard it all.  Believe it or not, I’ve had lawyers respond to complaints or inquiries by saying “THAT case?? It’s a nothing case.  What’d they expect me to do?”

Ummm, I don’t know, your job?

There are no “small” cases.  Some are worth more than others, some are more complicated than others.  But to the people involved, the matter you’re handling might very well be the most important thing in their lives.  To a degree, all they have is your diligence.

By analogy, how many of you have gone to the doctor to have your cough & runny nose checked out this winter?  The health care professional who treated you probably saw someone with a lot worse than a cold that day.  Yet, the health care professional didn’t say “what, just a cold?” and leave you waiting while he or she went off to work on someone “sicker.”

Do the same with your clients.  When it’s time to work on a matter, work on the matter. Diligence for all.

Further, remember that even in the so-called small cases, someone is always watching.   I think that’s what  Hoffman means by “as a young practitioner, not forgetting that large ones, which we have not, will never come, if the small ones, which we have, are neglected.”

The client whose “small” matter you have today might have a “large” matter in the future.  The decision whether to retain you then might well turn on the attention you give to the “small” matter today.  Similarly, opposing counsel and judges notice how you handle yourself.  Word gets around, and words make reputations.

Finally, let me ask a question: what does it mean to learn that I’ve had lawyers say to me “THAT case?? It’s a nothing case.  What’d they expect me to do?”

It means that the client in THAT case contacted the Professional Responsibility Program to complain.  The rules do not contain exceptions for “small cases.”  Regardless of a matter’s worth or complexity, a lack of diligence is a lack of diligence. In other words, the client whose matter is too small to attend to is likely the exact client who will contact me.

There are no “small” cases.

And Diligence for all!

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3 thoughts on “And Diligence for All!

  1. Hoffman was a really happening guy who not only wrote a code of ethics, but also worked to establish a culture of law for the new U.S. He opened one of the first law schools in America and his work has had a lasting influence in the history of American jurisprudence. He directed judicial adherence to a republican value system that measured public power by private standards of morality and usefulness. The release of American individual energies formed the core of the republican creed for lawyers as well as for other occupational groups, as new America sought to replace a ruler-subject model of social organization with one based upon the principle of free
    exchange among competing and self-reliant individuals. He also tried to balance the vulgarities of Jacksonian democracy against more universally applicable principles of government.

    Check out Maryland Law Review Article (1979) Maxwell Bloomfield “David Hoffman and the Shaping of a Republican Legal Culture”

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