PBCBA BAR BULLETINS pbcba_bulletin_June 2019 - Page 20

PROFESSIONALISM C o r n e r A Renewed Focus on Professionalism and Civility in the Courtroom DAVID GOUDREAU The level of trust and respect in our once hallowed legal profession has plummeted near the neighborhood of used car salesmen and telemarketers. How did we get here? And what can we do to fix the reputation of attorneys? This issue of incivility in our profession has also been a focus of the Florida Bar in recent years. In 2011, the Florida Supreme Court took the drastic step of amending its oath of attorney admission to require that attorneys taking the oath pledge to opposing parties and counsel “fairness, integrity, and civility, Hollywood portrays attorneys in TV shows not only in court, but also in all written and and movies such as “The Firm”, “Better Call oral communications.” Saul”, “Liar Liar”, and “Lincoln Lawyer”, among many others, as ruthless, dishonest, The focus of many bar associations has and unethical. Oftentimes when we see been to improve attorney relations outside high-profile attorneys on the news, they are the courtroom; however, it is this writer’s aggressively amplifying their delivery in opinion that in order to regain the level of an effort to draw attention to their client’s trust and respect the public once held for message. attorneys, we must start with a renewed focus on professionalism and civility inside In turn, many clients expect their lawyer to our courtrooms. act that way. They want their attorney to do whatever it takes to win, at all costs. Quite I have tried more than fifty jury trials to simply, our profession cannot support those verdict, and have spent thousands of hours unreasonable expectations. in the courtroom during the infancy of my legal career. I have seen the full range of The depictions of what a powerful or civility and professionalism on display. successful attorney is supposed to look Do you know who else sees how our local like are ripe in the minds of young aspiring attorneys interact with each other in court? attorneys who enter the profession with a The tens of thousands of jurors who walk false belief of what a successful attorney through our courthouse every year, the local is supposed to look like. The perception citizens who come to watch the various that the best attorneys are the ones who hearings and trials going on at any given are loud, aggressive, and willing to push up time, and the non-attorney courthouse to or beyond the ethical line has directly personnel who are there to witness it every contributed to the downfall of respect and single day. trust in our profession. We may not be able to change the way the So what can be done to save the reputation entire country feels about attorneys, but we of our once revered profession? The can all do our part to help change the way Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, along with the the local Palm Beach County community Professionalism Committee of the Palm feels about its attorneys. So what can we do Beach County Bar Association, has been at to help our reputations? the forefront of this issue, stressing the need for increased professionalism and civility Attorneys should always strive to in our legal community. By Court order, we be punctual, prepared and dressed have established a Professionalism Council appropriately when they enter the which reviews and conducts panels related courtroom. They should silence their cell to professionalism complaints about local phones and keep their voices to a whisper attorneys. Our new attorney breakfast, now until it is their turn to address the court. in its seventh year, teaches new attorneys Attorneys should treat opposing counsel, how professionalism plays a vital role in judges, deputies, clerks, court reporters, the everyday practice of law. Palm Beach and judicial assistants with courtesy and County additionally has a strong mentoring respect. At all times, attorneys must abstain program, so young attorneys have the from rude, disruptive and disrespectful necessary resources and positive role behavior. When someone treats us with models accessible to them at the outset of disrespect, we must take the high road their legal careers. and show them what professionalism PBCBA BAR BULLETIN 20 and civility look like. This may seem like common sense to many, but you would be surprised at how many attorneys fail to adhere to these very simple acts of common courtesy and professionalism. Civility, or the lack thereof, can and will have an impact on a lawyer’s reputation. Depending on its severity, a single uncivil act can haunt an attorney for years and damage their established reputation. Although being an advocate for the client is of the upmost importance, it must not come at the expense of a lawyer’s reputation or bar license. A reputation can take decades to build, but only seconds to destroy. Proper names should be used at all times, regardless of the familiarity between the parties. First names and other methods of informal address may be appropriate in private conversation or some social settings. But they may convey a lack of respect when used in a courtroom. Attorneys should rise to their feet when making objections. In fact, an attorney who disregards the trial judge’s instruction to rise when making objections during a civil jury trial may be held in direct contempt. In re Weinstein, 518 So.2d 1370 (Fla. 4th DCA 1988). This is true even if the attorney claims that the conduct was unintentional. Id. Attorneys found to have violated standards of professionalism or civility may be subjected to disciplinary actions. The penalties can range from public reprimands, to suspension, or even disbarment. As an attorney, your word is truly your bond. As officers of the court, attorneys must always comply with agreements they have entered into, rulings by the judge, and pre- trial court orders. If you believe opposing counsel has opened the door to an issue that was ruled upon pre-trial, you have an affirmative duty to approach the judge and ask for such a ruling. Should an attorney violate a pre-trial ruling or agreement between the parties, there are a number of potential consequences depending on the severity of the violation. (Continued on next page)