Proof of this constant self-rationalization is all around us. People say one thing and do another. We judge others for doing many of the same things we do. We parse words. We get tangled up in what the meaning of "is" is.
This can be especially true of law students and new lawyers. Most are very intelligent and have finely-honed analytical skills. They can argue about anything and everything. The can argue with equal force opposite sides of an issue. This is healthy and it's what lawyers do.
But I think it is just as healthy to, in the words of Socrates, "know thyself." If you don't and engage in rationalization about your actions, eventually you will find yourself sliding down a moral slippery slope, out of control and with often disasterous results. So, how do you go about knowing yourself? The following are a few suggestions:
1. Ask for feedback and learn to listen. Many new lawyers believe that they have to have all of the answers. It is very difficult to admit it when they don't, and even more difficult to ask questions. Certainly, we want our clients to view as as "experts" but in my experience, the really great lawyers can ask questions without compromising their "expertise". In a deposition, a lawyer will ask a lot of questions. She may already know the answers to many of these questions. Some, she may not. If she is skilled, you will never know which is which.
2. Keep a journal and engage in self-scrutiny. Develop the habit of writing every day your thoughts, problems, fears and feelings. Keep track of how you worked through a particularly difficult issue. Review your journal periodically. You may be amazed at your growth, over time.
3. Be polite, but always be honest with others. Brutal honesty doesn't have to be brutal. You can be honest with others without crushing them. But learn to tell others what you believe they need to hear, as opposed to what you believe they want to hear.
4. Be brutally honest with yourself. I wouldn't worry too much about hurting your own feelings; you likely have plenty of ego to take care of that problem. Instead, learn to be as objective with yourself as you are with your clients. Engage in self-scrutiny constantly. Compare your actions, both past and proposed, against your ethical framework, whatever it is. Ask yourself whether you are really acting your belief system.
5. Develop an ethical framework. There are certainly a variety of ways to do this. In my own case, I rely on some of the basic concepts in the Bible to help me maintain an ethical framework. You are probably familiar with the Ten Commandments; the Bible is full of similar ethical principles. You may have your own belief system, based on a different set of spiritual principles. Whatever it is, develop it, internalize it and utilize it in everything you do.