Legal battles like gunfights

Legal battles in today’s courtrooms take on the same intensity as gun battles in the old west, said Allen Smallwood, but there is another generally unseen casualty in the fracas, the core values of the legal profession.
Smallwood is focusing his efforts on building core values within Oklahoma’s legal community during his term as Oklahoma Bar Association president.
Smallwood of Tulsa, who began his term as the 2010 Oklahoma Bar Association president on Jan. 15, said his work also will include a civics lesson for those who will listen about the separation of powers between executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, something that seems to be lost on many people.
The legal profession in Oklahoma has an honored history in service to clients as well their communities, he said. Attorneys dedicate themselves to helping their clients, whether plaintiff or defendant. What is unseen is the amount of pro bono (free) work that lawyers do for their community.
Lawyers, by nature, are problem solvers as a profession, he said. That is why they are so valuable to society at large.
Lawyers go to court to fight for their clients with the same intensity that was found in the 1878 Dodge City gunfight. That intensity is in evidence discovery work, arguing the facts in court before a judge and jury. It is the same whether an attorney is defending his client charged with a crime or whether it is a bankruptcy case where a company is folding and employee jobs are at stake.
Regardless of the fight, a lawyer, in a highly stressful job, is in the middle of the fracas.
Serving as OBA president is a volunteer job that will demand time on the road visiting other county bar associations and public speaking events to tell about the OBA and its role in the state.
The OBA is a stand-alone self-governing association that doesn’t take one dime from the legislature, Smallwood said. If some lawmakers are successful in changing the current system in an attempt to supervise the legal profession, it will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. A recent attempt by two lawmakers to gain a role in the selection of judges because they disagreed with verdicts is an example. That effort even drew the editorial wrath of The Daily Oklahoman.
A legislative effort to gain that supervision was headed off in the last session, but it probably will come back at some time in the future, he said. Oklahoma lawyers can respond to that threat by educating the public through public speaking events about the dangers of the oversight of the legal profession.
During the past 70 years in Oklahoma to the ultimate authority to license attorneys has been the responsibility of the Supreme Court. Lawyers regularly are disciplined for not having done their job. Each month names are published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal listing those convicted of malfeasance in office.
The client security fund is funded by lawyers, created by lawyers and paid out of part of our dues to pay back clients hurt by lawyer misconduct, he said. “We recently divided $100,000 among a group of people. They may not get all of their money back, but the profession is making an effort to help those who have been wronged.”
No other profession publishes such a list, Smallwood said.
Rules of professional conduct enforced by the bar association under the supervision of the Supreme Court has proven to be effective in Oklahoma’s legal industry. Part of the attorney’s annual dues goes to a fund for clients who have been defrauded by their lawyer. Even though full amounts of the loss often cannot be made, a substantial effort is put forth to offset that wrongdoing.
As OBA President, Smallwood will be traveling throughout the state, talking to lawyers, encouraging them to let people know about their pro bono work in the community — not the legal work they don’t get paid for.
“I will focus on trying to educate people, discussing problems and not trying to paint rosy pictures about lawyers,” Smallwood said. “I am very proud to be part of the legal profession. The law, however, is fallible and we must work to make it as good as possible. I am available if anyone wants me to speak.”

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