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 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
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
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
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
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.
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