compassMany years ago as I began the practice of law, I realized how important it was for an attorney at law to be a positive example in the community in which he or she serves. No matter how many lawyer jokes people hear or re-tell, when their liberty is threatened they have no place to go except their attorney. When the Government decides that you are guilty of criminal activity and should be removed from society, all that stands between you and the loss of your freedom is the Constitution of the United States and your attorney. All states where lawyers are licensed have ethics rules which a lawyer must follow if he is to avoid sanctions and the possible loss of his law license. Click on the following links to see the lawyer ethics rules for Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.. These ethics rules are codified and are studied by prospective members of the bar. However, I felt that our firm needed short, simple, standards that we would follow in addition to those mandated by law. Here are those standards:


  • Always represent the best interests of our clients. Among other things, that means:
    1. Don’t worry about impressing opposing counsel.
    2. Don’t worry about impressing the judge.
    3. Don’t be pressured into a settlement that you don’t feel good about.
  • Always treat others, especially our clients, as you would want to be treated. Among other things, that means:
    1. Be kind and courteous to everyone, whether rich or poor.
    2. Never act out of anger or fear.
    3. Listen to what others have to say before opening your own mouth.
    4. Remember, our clients provide our living and send us most of our new business, so give them the respect they deserve.
  • Always be prepared.  Among other things, that means:
    1. Prepare every case properly before you go to court, and especially review the applicable law.
    2. Consider in advance the opposition point of view and all available responses.
    3. Never handle any case from the seat of your pants or off the cuff.  Be sure that you know exactly what you are doing.
  • Be an example in the community. Among other things, that means:
    1. Other people should respect you for the kind of person that you are.
    2. You should not be a drunkard.
    3. You should not curse.
    4. You should not advocate, condone, or practice immorality.
    5. You should try to advance the cause of justice whenever and wherever you can.

The standards set forth above are really just common sense rules of conduct for anyone whose profession is to represent the interests of others. If we are agents for someone else, we want to represent that person well and make a good impression for them in the community.

Doing the right thing and using common sense are not just rules for lawyers to follow. Everyone needs to understand that arrogance, lying, and unlawful behavior of any kind can and will get you in trouble. It is true that everyone sooner or later makes mistakes. Some of those mistakes will inevitably be serious. However, if we will use common sense based on a code of conduct such as the standards we do our best to follow at TATE BYWATER, the adverse consequences of our mistakes will not be nearly as severe.

(Excerpt from Chapter 13, “Using Common Sense and Doing the Right Thing”, I Am Charged With A Crime, James Tate and Charles Van Hardenbergh, 2015)