Gartin Building Courtroom with the Great Seal of the State of Mississippi

Justices Carlson emphasizes civility, ethics and professionalism at law student orientation

August 11, 2010

Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice George C. Carlson Jr. told new law students that the practice of law is not about making money or winning.

Speaking to about 225 students on the Mississippi College campus in Clinton on Aug. 11, Justice Carlson said the legal profession is about service, with civility, ethics and professionalism as core values.

Justice Carlson opened the James O. Dukes Law School Professionalism Program for first year students of the Mississippi College School of Law. Supreme Court Chief Justice William L. Waller Jr. will be the keynote speaker Aug. 19 for a similar program for first year law students attending the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Justice Carlson said, “You are the future of our legal profession. I implore you to remember as you go through law school that being a lawyer is not about making money. I am satisfied that if you work hard during law school and then as a lawyer, you will achieve financial success. But more importantly, I implore you to remember that the legal profession, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, is still a service profession. We are put here on this Earth not to be served, but to serve.”

Justice Carlson, who was a circuit judge for 19 years before joining the Supreme Court nine years ago, decried the “win at all costs, Rambo type attitude” he saw in the courtroom. He counted off numerous efforts in recent years to address lapses in civility, ethics and professionalism. He noted that he and more than 50 other lawyers and judges wouldn’t be spending the day talking about these issues if the problem wasn’t real.

“If we don’t have a problem in the legal profession when it comes to a lack of civility – a lack of ethics – a lack of professionalism, why has the Mississippi Bar suffered a direct hit due to convictions of lawyers and judges over the last few years on judicial corruption charges?” Justice Carlson said. But, he said, “Let me assure you that although the problems of the past few years in Mississippi, without question, did cast a cloud over our grand profession, we will prevail because our legal profession in Mississippi is made up of good and honorable men and women.”

Justice Carlson recounted measuring sticks for appropriate conduct offered by several distinguished members of the bar. The late Gulfport attorney James O. Dukes, the former Mississippi Bar president for whom the professionalism program is named, called it the “gut test.” Carlson quoted Dukes as saying that if the lawyer’s gut reaction was that something did not seem right or ethical, it probably wasn’t. And longtime attorney Hal Miller of Ridgeland put it this way: “How would your mother feel about what you did?”

Dukes, who became Mississippi Bar president in 1999, emphasized civility and professionalism and was instrumental in creating the program for first year law students at both law schools. This is the twelfth year that the Mississippi Bar has sponsored the professionalism program as part of orientation for students entering law school.

The program includes small group discussions of hypothetical ethical dilemmas. Judges and lawyers use scenarios to introduce students to court rules governing conduct and professionalism.

More than 50 judges and lawyers served as facilitators for the small group discussions. Judges acting as facilitators included Justice Carlson and Justice Ann H. Lamar; Court of Appeals Judges Kenneth Griffis Jr., Joe Lee and David M. Ishee; Circuit Judges Vernon Cotten of Carthage, Lisa P. Dodson of Gulfport and Winston L. Kidd of Jackson; Chancery Judges Larry Buffington of Collins, Debbra Halford of Meadville, and Edward E. Patten Jr. of Hazlehurst; County Court Judges Kent McDaniel of Brandon and John P. Price of Magnolia; 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Leslie Southwick of Jackson; and U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett of Hattiesburg.