Approaching the fifty-year mark of being a Florida Bar Member, Paul Lipton provides a unique insight into professionalism and the practice of law.
By Isabella Roman-Secor, 2L, Florida State College of Law
Who is Paul Lipton?
Paul Lipton is a father, husband, trial attorney, professor, author, and traveler. His legal career started while studying political science and history at Penn State University. Paul had a random encounter with a man who was lost. Paul offered to help the man, who turned out to be a recruiter from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. The recruiter convinced Paul to apply to law school, and he was later accepted. Paul had every intention of obtaining a graduate degree in political science and becoming a professor; but the random encounter inspired him to attend law school. A serendipity experience launched Paul’s legal career.
After graduation, Paul began his legal career at the District Attorney’s office in New York. He later moved to Miami, initially doing criminal defense work. Then he expanded into commercial and land use litigation. Paul spent more than 40 years being a prominent trial attorney in South Florida. However, Paul does not view his role as a lawyer as simply practicing law. Instead, he believes lawyers are meant to keep faith in the system. Every lawyer is responsible for contributing to the legal system.
Paul’s current role is Director of Professionalism, Career, and Skill Development at Rumberger, Kirk, & Caldwell.[i] In this role, he works with associates one-on-one to help sharpen their skills. This is an unprecedented role because professional development is usually handled by human resource officials. Paul’s thoughtful approach encourages associates to pursue their goals while embracing their roles as young leaders in the community.
Professionalism is Changing:
Professionalism is always changing. Lawyers and judges are part of the general population. So as the population changes, professionalism in the legal field also changes. The increase of social media and the 24/7 news cycle has contributed to the changes in professionalism. To combat the negative changes, professionalism, ethics, and civility must be the spine of society.
The Florida Bar breaks down professionalism into the Four Cs: character, competence, commitment, and civility.[ii] This is a good standard for professionalism, but there are concerns that individuals will define the words narrowly or in a self-absorbed manner. When Paul began his legal career, he contacted The Florida Bar and launched a series dedicated to interviewing prominent lawyers and judges who upheld professionalism. During this series, he discovered that the most professional individuals viewed their role as part of a bigger system of preserving justice. An individual will either be part of the problem or the solution. When there is faith in the system, individuals are more inclined to do what is just.
Capitalizing on Time:
One of the greatest challenges for lawyers is balancing time. In his book, Hour of the Wolf: An Experiment in Ageless Living, Paul describes that “One day. Once gone, it is gone forever. It can never be recaptured”.[iii] Paul challenges that each day should be viewed as an endangered species because once the day ends, it can never be relived. Each day matters, and individuals make hundreds of large, small, and impromptu decisions that could change their lives and their family members for better or worse.[iv] Time is limited, and each person is here for a narrow period.
However, no day is wasted when it is lived consciously and to the full. To capitalize on time, these five decisions must be made: (1) make time for yourself, (2) prioritize family and friends, (3) learn something new, (4) discover your spirituality (larger story), and (5) choose to have fun. It is never too late to decide to change because you are the writer of your story. Understanding the larger story takes time and cannot be rushed. There is a process that everyone must endure to gain wisdom. Mentoring is an exceptional avenue to learn from those who have already been through the process. It is important to gain advice from good mentors that can provide guidance on navigating the legal system.
The Legacy of Professionalism
The most successful lawyers are those who find their purpose in the larger story. It is easy to get lost in the daily functions, but each lawyer must understand that their clients are in a crisis and need someone who can see the larger picture. The night before a hearing, there is either a mother concerned about losing custody, a businessman fearful that his business will go bankrupt or an innocent man being wrongfully charged. Each of these individuals is longing for justice and is relying on lawyers and judges.
Unprofessional behavior arises when people attempt to delay justice because of the adversarial nature of the legal system. A new phenomenon that has formed is “passive injustice,” which is when someone witnesses something wrong and has the power to intervene but does not. For example, when a judge witnesses a lawyer violate the professional rules of conduct and ignores the behavior. The judge has the power to intervene and chooses not to; this is passive injustice. To overcome unjust behavior, individuals must focus on the larger story and remember their crucial role in the justice system.
In the end, each person will leave a legacy behind. Your legacy can be for your family, career, or yourself. When Paul trekked through the Himalayas, he encountered a group of people that were satisfied in life and did not care about winning a competition or a court case. Instead, they focused on their purpose in the larger story and lived to fulfill their calling. Lawyers and judges must understand that they are a part of the justice system. For the justice system to be productive, the areas of professionalism, ethics, and civility must be prioritized. Every lawyer should strive for a legacy that encompasses honor, decency, and nobility.
[i] Paul Lipton: Director of Professionalism, Career and Skill Development, Rumberger & Kirk, https://www.rumberger.com/people/plipton/. [ii] The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism, Professionalism Expectations, The Florida Bar, https://www.floridabar.org/prof/regulating-professionalism/professionalism-expectations-2/. [iii] Paul Lipton, Hour of the Wolf: An Experiment in Ageless Living (2013). [iv] Arthur J. England, Jr., September/ October 2013 Books: Hour of the Wolf: An Experiment in Ageless Living, The Florida Bar Journal, https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-journal/books-90/ (last visited on Dec. 6, 2022).