The University of St. Thomas

Finding the Mission in Legal Ethics, by Phil Johnson ’11

Published on: Friday, January 24th, 2014

Phil Johnson '11

Phil Johnson ’11

Initially, I questioned whether my volunteer activity as a member of the 4th District Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee fulfills the mission of the law school. “Mission,” I reasoned, was surely related to work cross-culturally, such as feeding the poor, ministering to children or homeless, or developing a program to eliminate social disease. Surely the task of promoting professional ethical standards for attorneys and judges would not rise to issues of morality and social justice … or would it?

Working within a team to “maintain() the integrity and ideals of the legal profession” by investigating and providing a recommendation related to alleged violations in the code of ethics to which attorneys practice, the mission and action of this organization provides a framework by which the Hennepin County Bar Association and its members may operate with integrity.

In serving this role for the past four years, there have been a variety of cases assigned to me. Some indicated impropriety, others confusion, and a few a simple frustration with the results. In the end, however, each received a fair hearing: an air of their grievance, a search for truth, and a resolution taking all matters into account. No cases are declined, and all who feel wronged are afforded attention to their concerns. This board serves a vital role within this community.

I am thankful that as a law student, I studied under a Professional Responsibility Professor who raised difficult questions and explored grey areas of legal ethics. I am pleased to have served as a Research Assistant for him in my 3L year and observe legal ethics in practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve with other legal professionals who give of their time to promote legal ethics and raise the standard of attorney behavior in Hennepin County. While this volunteer role might not encompass a traditional definition of “mission,” I am thankful that it surely fulfills the mission of the law school – that of providing a moral standard and promoting a sense of social justice that upholds the standards of professional legal behavior and speaks to those clients who have potentially been taken advantage of by those in authority.

It is a pleasure to serve.

Phil Johnson received his International M.B.A. from UST in 2008, a J.D. from UST in 2011 and an LL.M. in International Law from McGeorge School of Law in 2012. He worked for Ameriprise Financial as a Litigation Analyst while in law school and for CMS Hasche Sigle in Cologne, Germany, following his LL.M. pursuits. He currently is an Account Manager at Thomson Reuters in the Twin Cities. He volunteers for the 4th District Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee in Minneapolis and has served on the Board of the East London YMCA. He speaks French and German.

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