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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jan. 23, 201712:00 PM EST

Bar Bulletin: Being more professional is a New Year's resolution worth keeping

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by: Robert Heekin Jr.

As we near the end of January, 2017 is off to a quick start.

Many of us finally are embracing a full week of work after stringing together myriad holidays, vacations and celebrations.

With the dust settling from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s a great time to clear the office of clutter and make plans for maximizing the potential the new year has brought us.

As members of The Florida Bar, we are encouraged to practice law in a professional manner. Merriam-Webster defines professional as “exhibiting a courteous, conscientious and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.”

In our interactions with others, lawyers and nonlawyers alike, we should place great emphasis on maintaining a professional demeanor, both in and out of the workplace.

Always remember the general public’s perception of our profession can be defined by our actions, especially in the way we treat others, both clients and combatants.

In an effort to improve our practice, here are a few areas we should all strive to improve and focus on in the coming year.

Punctuality

Appearing promptly as scheduled, whether for a conference, meeting or court hearing, is one of the easiest ways to exhibit a professional demeanor.

Be sure to plan accordingly when it comes to making your daily schedule. Your counterparts will thank you for it.

Attitude

Check your bad mood at the door. This is difficult to do because we all have our “off” days.

However, you should do your best not to take it out on your coworkers, clients or colleagues. You may find the smallest victory at work can begin to turn your outlook around and brighten your day.

Attire

Dress to impress.

Not everyone can afford the latest in fashion or accessories, but everyone is capable of putting forth a neat and clean appearance.

If you don’t know how to iron a shirt or skirt, introduce yourself to your local dry cleaner.

Remember –– you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Accountability

Own your mistakes. Do your best to correct them and ensure they don’t happen again.

No one is perfect, but you obtain a level of trust and respect from your fellow practitioners (and your clients) if you address problems head on and work to fix them.

Don’t play the blame game or pretend an error didn’t occur. Odds are a tiny problem will morph into a major issue if it is ignored.

Language

Remember what your mother told you: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Our words are a direct reflection of who we are, what values we hold and what level of respect we have for others.

Swearing at, blaspheming or defaming our fellow attorneys or our opponents shows contempt for those around us.

By raising the level of discourse and showing respect in debate, we not only raise the bar for our profession, we help elevate conversation in our society as well.

Lend a hand

Ever notice a fellow attorney struggling to make an argument? Or see a pro se litigant having trouble grasping courtroom procedure?

What comes naturally to seasoned veterans in their respective areas of practice may be utterly foreign to those who are there for the first (and perhaps only) time.

When appropriate, make an effort this year to provide advice to a colleague or donate your services to a litigant in need of counsel.

You’ll find the experience both personally and professionally rewarding.

Honesty

Never tell a lie. It’s as simple as that.

You’ll always need a bigger one to cover up the first, and at some point, the truth will come out.

I hope you will join me in resolving to raise the level of professionalism here in northeast Florida, and I wish you all success in the coming year.

Robert Heekin Jr. is a partner with Thames Markey & Heekin.

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