Putting the Rah-Rah-Rah Into Lawyering: Spirit and Enthusiasm

by Vanessa Mui

According to the Chief Justice of Ontario’s Advisory Committee on Professionalism, the building blocks of professionalism include scholarship, integrity, honour, leadership, independence, pride, spirit and enthusiasm, collegiality, service, and balanced commercialism. “Spirit and enthusiasm” (S&E) is undervalued in ethical rules that regulate and inspire lawyers.

What constitutes “spirit and enthusiasm”? The term “spirit” is mentioned in the Federation of Law Societies Model Code of Conduct but the rules are of no help in explaining how lawyers should exemplify spirit in their daily work. A word search in the Rules for “enthusiasm” turned up nothing. Additionally, “spirit” and “enthusiasm” are nowhere to be found in Black’s Law Dictionary. Given that these terms do not appear to be fully defined in these resources, perhaps a better methodology would be to consider its meaning and context through the lens of everyday language.

The terms “spirit” and “enthusiasm” do not automatically spring to mind the vision of a lawyer. Instead, the terms are more likely to conjure up a vision of a sporting event, with cheerleaders jumping up and down while cheering their team on. If these terms immediately depict cheerleaders, one might respectfully ask how they could also be used to describe lawyers. Despite the incongruence, cheerleaders and lawyers share many commonalities, particularly with respect to professionalism. Here, S&E can be defined as embodying concepts such as teamwork, confidence, performance, perseverance, positive attitude and passion for the profession.

Two heads are better than one: Cheerleaders and lawyers, while focused on individual skills and competence, inevitably work in teams. These teams strategize, share ideas and workload, and support each other’s efforts and goals. Although sometimes seen as adversarial with a one track mind, lawyers do generally seek out the expertise of colleagues when appropriate and will recognize when the spirit of cooperation and collaboration is necessary in order to better serve client needs.

Pretty is as pretty does: While the cheerleader uniform is short and flexible allowing for a range of movement and the lawyer’s coat of armour includes the pin-striped suit, both attires serve a functional purpose. Dressing and looking the part heightens self-confidence while also inspiring the confidence of others. Maintaining a clean and professional appearance is key to wooing, maintaining, and retaining both clients and fans over time. Showcasing self-confidence will also undoubtedly command the attention of a judge, jury, or audience and instil a sense of trust in one’s competence and skill.

Take a bow: Whether on the field or in the courtroom, cheerleaders and lawyers are performers. A great performance requires comprehensive preparation, rehearsing, and delivery of clear and effective messages. Communication is expressed not only verbally but through body language. Therefore, crossed arms and a stony expression will never evince spirit or enthusiasm. Instead, a smile can persuade an opponent to at least consider a particular point of view or entice them to engage in a win-win solution.

Fighting for the underdog: Whether in a playoff game or arguing before a judge, a victory is never guaranteed. Even in difficult times, the cheering must go on. What can make all the difference to a client or fan is a commitment to champion the cause, maintaining a positive attitude, providing the best representation possible, and remaining passionate and focused on the end goal. A lawyer must be convinced that he or she is doing the right thing for the client and must demonstrate this through unwavering support and action or by assessing alternative measures. This belief must also be demonstrated through an honest and engaging presentation and court presence. A more favourable outcome is within reasonable grasp if a lawyer can ultimately persuade a judge or jury to believe in the client’s story.

There are at least three actionable strategies for maintaining S&E over the course of a legal career. These strategies can be used to prevent lawyers from becoming victims of premature burnout, loss of motivation, or quitting the legal profession altogether.

Mentorship: Finding a mentor or several mentors throughout one’s career can be helpful at different stages of professional and personal growth. A mentor who provides advice and guidance can help manage anxiety, fears, and feelings of professional loneliness which are often seen as weaknesses or barriers to advancing within the legal profession. Mentorship is a bilateral relationship and benefits both participants because they learn from each others’ experiences. The success of one is often celebrated and shared as a success of the other. In this manner, the mentoring process enhances levels of professional satisfaction and continued motivation.

Work hard and play hard: The stereotypical lawyer is seen as hard-working, billing countless hours, and staying up well into the wee hours of the morning preparing a case. While this is a probable pattern in the early years of a career in law, many lawyers strive to find a better work-life balance. This requires an understanding of what an individual’s values are, and choosing or altering the environment or one’s own expectations to suit professional and personal needs, without losing faith or hope in having both a fulfilling life and career.

Be the change you wish to see in the world: All jobs have the potential of becoming mundane. To minimize this frustrating effect, the pursuit of continuing education can build and expand upon one’s professional competencies and opens the door to new responsibilities or career opportunities. The ability to successfully network or the mastery of a new skill becomes another attractive attribute for providing value-added service to employers, or to advance through the workplace hierarchy. These learning opportunities should be encouraged and embraced by employers and employees alike.

Based on the common depiction of S&E, it is not intuitively obvious how lawyers, compared to cheerleaders, embody similar characteristics. Despite the initial incongruence, both groups embody S&E through teamwork, confidence, performance, perseverance, positive attitude, and a passion for their profession. Lawyers, in essence, are cheerleaders of a client’s cause. It would be a shame to simply embody S&E at the beginning of one’s legal career only to have it wane and become irrelevant over time. Given its crucial importance as a foundation to a lawyer’s professional identity and work ethic, the legal profession should put more emphasis on reminding lawyers how to embody and maintain S&E throughout their careers, and should explicitly explore or define these terms within the Rules of Professional Conduct or in other frameworks defining professionalism. The rah-rah-rah is not only for cheerleaders, it applies most definitely to the longevity of a career in law.

[Vanessa Mui wrote this paper for a course in Professional Responsibility taught by Professor Adam Dodek at Ottawa University Faculty of Law]

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