Seven Deadly Sins of Ethics and Professionalism
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP
Most of us are familiar with Christianity’s seven deadly sins: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, and Sloth. However, most paralegals aren’t aware of the corresponding seven deadly sins of ethics and professionalism.
Pride, which may be a virtue in some circumstances, may also take the form of conceit, egotism, vanity, and arrogance. Paralegals who are guilty of Pride may have a lofty view of their superiority to others, are overconfident, have an exaggerated opinion of their own abilities of accomplishments, are overly preoccupied with themselves, or have an excessive need to be admired by others and exhibit symptoms of self-admiration.
Most of us are familiar with the expression “pride goeth before a fall.” The source of this idiom is from Proverbs and means that those who are guilty of one of the forms of Pride will likely make mistakes that will lead to their downfall.
The negative type of Pride often stems from feelings of inadequacy or fear. The risk is that a paralegal will rush, not review the rules or statutes, follow procedures, conduct the appropriate research, and take advantage of available resources to ensure the job is done correctly and well.
Professional paralegals recognize they don’t know everything and have no problem admitting they don’t the answer or how to do something while expressing confidence in being able to find the answer or learn new information and skills. Rather than coming across as inexperienced or weak, paralegals who seek to improve their knowledge and skills and utilize their resources to gather information are viewed as valuable employees.
Prideful paralegals also run the risk of having their attitude be off-putting to coworkers and supervisors, which may have negative effects on their performance reviews.
Envy is the desire for the achievements, status, skills, and similar attributes of others, usually associated with feelings of discontent. Negative effects of Envy may include a tendency to try to downplay or minimize the attributes and accomplishments of others. Professional paralegals are aware that achievements by and skills of fellow paralegals reflect positively on our entire profession, as well as strengthen the workplace team.
A positive effect of Envy would be if it motivates a paralegal to become certified, develop new skills, and otherwise increase her professionalism.
For paralegals, Gluttony manifests as hoarding work, information, or access. While it may seem to some paralegals that controlling these things will make them more valuable, elevate their status, or provide job security, they are mistaken. Such actions make it appear the paralegal is insecure, arrogant, and more interested in himself than assisting the team in doing the best job.
For paralegals, Lust manifests as an inappropriate desire or craving and is closely related to Envy. Lust may include such a strong desire to be considered the best by some measure, that the paralegal may almost completely disregard other considerations and even other responsibilities. For example, a paralegal who has a Lust to be viewed as the hardest worker in the office may disregard her health in order to get to the office first and stay late, bill more hours, and complete more projects. Professional paralegals know they cannot do their best without maintaining a work-life balance, and taking care of their own health and wellbeing.
Anger may be frustration, indignation, or resentment. It may begin with a perceived injury or injustice, or a feeling of not being valued, validated, or having the paralegal’s opinions considered. Unfortunately, Anger in any form is often not a productive way to effect change in policies or procedures, or to convince others to consider that paralegal’s view. Even if the paralegal’s position is justified, Anger is usually met with resistance and frequently results in the paralegal being perceived as difficult, demanding, or unreasonable.
Although Anger is often an understandable reaction to certain situations, paralegals should focus on working within the system to effect change, taking into consideration the best approaches given the personalities of the parties involved, and office politics.
For paralegals, Greed is the desire for recognition, work, status, or control, without considering the broader needs of the project, the team, and even the paralegal’s own professionalism. Greed may be related to Pride or Gluttony if the paralegal has feelings of inadequacy. Greed may also manifest as one-upmanship.
Greed may cause the paralegal to be viewed as insecure, egotistical, and controlling, especially if the paralegal makes a regular effort to be sure others are aware of the paralegal’s role and status. Professional paralegals realize that those who do a good job in a professional manner will most likely be acknowledged for their work. Paralegals who compliment others and strive to improve their own knowledge and skills will not feel the need to be greedy.
While one characteristic of Sloth is laziness, for paralegals it may also take the form of taking credit or billing for another’s work, only doing a job halfway, or taking ill-advised shortcuts. Professional paralegals always do the best job possible and are ethical in their billings practices.
Ethical and professional paralegals are always working to improve their skills and abilities, take pride in their work, and consider the ethical issues of their assignments. They also acknowledge and praise the accomplishments of others, do what is best for the project and the team, and encourage and assist others in increasing their professionalism, thus serving as role models and improving the paralegal profession.
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP, is the Chair of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Paralegal Division and a past president of the Division. She is a frequent speaker on paralegal ethics and intellectual property and the lead author of the Division’s Paralegal Ethics Handbook published by Thomson Reuters.
If you have any questions regarding any ethical issue, please contact the Professional Ethics Committee.
Originally published in the Texas Paralegal Journal © Copyright 2016 by the Paralegal Division, State Bar of Texas.