Sun. May 26th, 2024

“Civility” Oath Rule Adopted by Supreme Court

The “civility” oath rule requires anyone admitted to practice law after 2014 to swear or affirm the following:

“As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity”.

The rule was adopted by the California Supreme Court on May 1, 2014. The idea behind the rule is to: 
  • Be fair to opposing counsel
  • Refrain from engaging in prejudicial conduct toward the administration of justice
  • Maintain the decorum of the tribunal

“Civility” Oath Rule Adopted by Supreme Court

Will apply to new lawyers

San Francisco—The California Supreme Court today announced that it has adopted rule 9.4 of the California Rules of Court to supplement the attorney oath for new lawyers. The oath will include a statement that the attorney will strive to conduct himself or herself with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.

“Rule 9.4 Oath required when admitted to practice law” was adopted by the Supreme Court at its administrative conference on April 23, 2014, and will be added to Title 9. Rules On Law Practice, Attorneys, And Judges of the California Rules of Court effective May 23, 2014. The adoption of the rule was consistent with the nationwide efforts, led in part by the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), to include a “civility” provision to the oaths taken by lawyers admitted to the bar in jurisdictions nationwide.

Mr. Mark Robinson, Jr., commented “As president of ABOTA and also as a member of California’s Judicial Council, I really praise the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court regarding the passing of the courtesy and integrity oath. We need lawyers who are courteous to other lawyers and to the courts, and we need lawyers with integrity. This is a great thing for justice here in California and it’s great for the Judicial Council, national ABOTA, and the people of California.”

Rule 9.4 states “In addition to the language required by Business and Professions Code section 6067, the oath to be taken by every person on admission to practice law is to conclude with the following:  ‘As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.’ ”

“The State Bar was pleased to work with Doug DeGrave and CAL-ABOTA in urging the court to adopt this additional measure, and it is our belief that it will create an added reinforcement for attorneys entering the bar in California to remember the principles of professionalism that brought them to the practice in the first place and in particular in their dealings with clients, other attorneys, and judges” said Mr. Patrick Kelly, immediate past-president of the State Bar of California, “This was the highest priority for Doug and I, so we’re delighted that the court has made this addition to the rules.”

With the adoption of the new rule, the entire oath to be taken upon the admission to practice law will now be as follows: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of an attorney and counselor at law to the best of my knowledge and ability. As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.”

According to Mr. Douglas DeGrave, immediate past president of the California Chapters of the American Board of Trial Advocates (CAL-ABOTA), “This revision to the oath is an historic moment for the legal community. This change in the oath should remind us of our obligations beyond that of zealous advocacy on behalf of our clients. As professionals, we have an obligation to conduct ourselves with dignity, courtesy, and integrity. Many have forgotten these very principles to which we, as professionals, should always adhere. As an organization, CAL-ABOTA is proud of this accomplishment and our partnership with the State Bar. Needless to say, we are very pleased with the adoption of rule 9.4.”

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Attorneys are first and foremost advocates for their clients’ causes. That is, California attorneys are called upon to be “zealous” advocates for their clients. The Supreme Court of California has affirmed this on several occasions stating that once a lawyer agrees to representation of a client, they must represent the client “zealously, within the bounds of the law.”[1] However, recent appellate court decisions have sought to temper the “zealousness” of advocacy with the equally important concepts of civility and cooperation:

We close this discussion with a reminder to counsel—all counsel, regardless of practice, regardless of age—that zealous advocacy does not equate with ‘attack dog’ or ‘scorched earth’; nor does it mean lack of civility. [Citations.] Zeal and vigor in the representation of clients are commendable. So are civility, courtesy, and cooperation. They are not mutually exclusive.[2]

These courts recognize that California attorneys owe duties to their clients but also to the justice system itself.[3] Often, the demands of these two duties are not harmonious and can place attorneys in a position where they must choose between competing duties to each. While attorneys are expected to represent clients to the best of their ability and owe a duty to clients to present the case with vigor in a manner that is as favorable to the client as applicable law permits, an attorney is also an officer of the court and must work to maintain the integrity of the justice system through truthful advocacy in and outside the courtroom. How then can attorneys reliably determine the ethical limits of their advocacy?

The fundamental answer is that all advocacy—even zealous advocacy—must remain within the bounds of law. This article provides a brief overview of the ethical limits of zealous advocacy by examining two foundational duties included in Bus. & Prof. Code § 6068 and their related rules in the California Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”).

Bus. & Prof. Code § 6068 identifies several important duties to the justice system imposed on all California attorneys. In general, these duties require an attorney not only to consider their client’s directives and interests but also to undertake an independent ethical evaluation of their conduct or proposed course of action on behalf of a client to ensure it falls within the limits imposed on their advocacy by the applicable ethical laws and rules.

First, paragraph (a) of § 6068 provides that it is a duty of an attorney to “support the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state.”[4] This is a foundational attorney duty that seeks to ensure that any conduct or advocacy by an attorney on behalf of a client does not contravene the Constitution and laws of the federal government or California. While § 6068(a) seems to merely be a straightforward duty to obey the law, there is much more in view. This is evident when one examines the related RPC.

Rule 1.2.1(a) and (b)(2) expands on the duty set forth in § 6068(a). It states that a lawyer “shall not counsel a client to engage or assist a client in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal, fraudulent, or a violation of any law, rule, or ruling of a tribunal” except that the lawyer may “counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, meaning, or application of a law, rule or ruling of a tribunal.” By prohibiting a lawyers counseling or assisting a client in criminal, fraudulent or unlawful conduct, rule 1.2.1 emphasizes that an attorney’s advocacy must include independent considerations beyond the directives and goals of a client. Moreover, an attorney is not required to simply walk away from a client in such a situation but instead may assist the client to understand the valid scope, meaning and application of the law at issue. In fact, rule 1.2.1(b)(1) explicitly provides that a lawyer “may…discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with the client.” That is, the attorney can guide a client away from errant objectives through a better understanding of the law as well as help the client find a remedy that will serve their interests through valid and good faith application of law. Put another way, an attorney is authorized to counsel a client “off the ethical ledge” if they appear to have a criminal or fraudulent objective.

However, in providing counseling, an attorney must walk a fine line. As pointed out in comment [1] of rule 1.2.1, there is a critical distinction between presenting an analysis of questionable conduct and recommending how a crime or fraud might be committed with impunity. Thus, harmonizing the needs of the client with the integrity of the justice system is realized when an attorney acts within the ethical limits of advocacy outlined by law and the RPC.

A second foundational duty is found in Bus. & Prof. Code § 6068(c) which provides it is a duty of an attorney “to counsel or maintain those actions, proceedings, or defenses only as appear to him or her legal or just except the defense of a person charged with a public offense.”[5] Again, an attorney may not counsel a client to file a civil claim or action unless the attorney independently believes that claim or action is legal or just. An examination of the related RPC is helpful in fleshing out and understanding this duty.

Rule 3.1(a) prohibits an attorney from bringing or continuing an action, conducting a defense, asserting a position in litigation, or taking an appeal, “without probable cause and for the purpose of harassing or maliciously injuring any person”; or from presenting a claim or defense in litigation “that is not warranted under existing law, unless it can be supported by a good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal of the existing law.” Rule 3.1(a) adds considerations of probable cause, harassment or malicious injury, and good faith to help an attorney determine the ethical contours of advocacy on behalf of a client. By its reference to probable cause and good faith, rule 3.1 reminds attorneys that they must always consider their duties to the justice system as well as their obligations to a client. Moreover, by its reference to harassment and malicious injury, rule 3.1 emphasizes the importance of attorneys conforming their conduct with opposing parties and counsel within certain ethical limitations.[6]

We have all experienced instances where the tension between duties to the justice system and to clients have been difficult to resolve. Attorneys, however, are duty-bound to undertake an appropriate analysis to determine for their clients and themselves the ethical limits of their zealous advocacy in any given case. Bus. & Prof. Code § 6068(a) and (c) and the related rules discussed in this article provide guidance to assist attorneys in finding their way through difficult ethical decisions faced in the practice of law. The ethical restraint on unbridled advocacy also has the salubrious effect of making attorneys better advocates for their clients because it encourages creative thinking and “out-of-the-box” analysis that otherwise might be overlooked. It is important to remember that just because something can be done, it does not follow that it should. This is the basic truth of ethical zealous advocacy that all California attorneys are duty-bound to heed in their advocacy on behalf of their clients and as officers of the court.

  1. See, e.g., Hawk v. Sup.Ct. (People) (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 108, 126.
  2. In re Marriage of Davenport (2011) 194 Cal.App.4th 1507, 1537.
  3. See Rule of Professional Conduct, rule 1.0(a).
  4. See also Bus. & Prof. Code § 6067, which sets for the attorney’s oath “to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California, and faithfully to discharge the duties of any attorney at law to the best of his knowledge and ability.”
  5. The ethical limits in a criminal proceeding (or a proceeding that could result in incarceration, or involuntary commitment or confinement) are beyond the scope of this article and differ in important ways from the civil context. For instance, RPC rule 3.1(b) provides a lawyer for the defendant may defend the proceeding by requiring that every element of the case be established. This is not true in civil actions as discussed herein.
  6. Attorneys would be well-served to remember that civility, courtesy, and cooperation with opposing parties and their counsel will not diminish the effectiveness of their ethical zealous advocacy.

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California Supreme Court to Weigh Civility Requirements for Lawyers

The notion of civility is mentioned frequently in multiple different contexts when discussing trends within the legal profession. In law school, law students are taught to follow the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the ethical obligations that come with taking the oath of professionalism as an attorney. Although often stated, the term civility is not defined specifically within any legal statutes or guidelines. This article will address what civility means within the legal profession and the fine line between zealous advocacy and acting without civility. Further, the article will discuss specific examples of incivility within the legal profession and how best to handle disagreements or aggressive communications with clients, opposing counsel, and outside parties.

Civility is an important concept within the legal profession that should be considered when acting as an advocate and counsel.

The state bar sent the court proposed rule changes that would subject rude lawyers to discipline.

State Bar trustees this week sent the California Supreme Court long-awaited proposed rule changes aimed at increasing civility in the legal profession.

The measures, drafted by dozens of judges and lawyers, call on bar members to annually commit to acting with “dignity, courtesy and integrity.” Those who fall short of those ethical standards would risk professional discipline.

“These proposals give us more tools as a profession to make it more welcome to women, to lawyers of color, to young lawyers and really to everyone,” said Justice Brian Currey, presiding justice of the Second District Court of Appeal, Division Four.

Currey chaired the task force that issued a 2021 report calling for mandatory training in civility for lawyers and judges as well as related changes in attorney disciplinary rules. The report’s recommendations provide the framework for the proposals sent to the state Supreme Court.

Since 2014, any lawyer admitted to practice in California has been required to take an oath that says “as an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy and integrity.” Lawyers admitted before then, however, did not have to make the same pledge.

If the state Supreme Court approves the proposed changes, starting in 2024 all lawyers will be required to repeat that pledge annually. Active lawyers who fail to do so will be placed on inactive status.

Proposed changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct also clarify that lawyers who avoid “offensive tactics” with opposing counsel, perform case tasks punctually and treat “with courtesy and consideration all persons involved in the legal profession” are not violating any obligations to their clients. Another amendment specifies that lawyers can be disciplined for “abusive or harassing” behavior.

A new RPC 8.4.2 defines incivility as “significantly unprofessional conduct that is abusive or harassing and shall be determined on the basis of all the facts and circumstances surrounding the conduct.”

The California Supreme Court has not taken a public position on the proposed changes. Currey said he recently spoke with Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero and “she is looking forward to receiving the proposal.”

Other states have lawyer civility oaths and professional requirements. Federal courts in California have civility guidelines. California has guidelines for its attorneys, too, and local bars and individual courts have adopted codes of behavior. Formal rules, however, have been discussed for decades but not yet enacted.

Although the proposed changes were circulated for public comment by the bar, responses were limited. Many of those who wrote in opposition did so anonymously and often suggested that civility is something that can’t be mandated by an RPC.

Leaders of several specialty bar associations wrote in support of the changes, saying it was time for pleas for civility among lawyers to carry some force.

“We believe it is necessary and appropriate for there to be repercussions for incivility and that it should be made clear we are not merely pay[ing] lip service to these ideas, but that a violation of these provisions can be a disciplinable offense,” Paul Reynolds, president of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers of San Diego, wrote.

Correction: The article was updated on 8/3/2023 to correct a quotation from Second District Court of Appeal Justice Brian Currey about his conversation with Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero concerning a proposed civility rule.

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Civility Defined

According to Merriam-Webster, the term civility is defined as civilized conduct or a polite act or expression.1 Oxford Dictionary defines the term as “[f]ormal politeness and courtesy in behaviour or speech” or “[p]olite remarks used in formal conversation.”2 These definitions are helpful in understanding the mechanics of the term, but what exactly falls within the purview of acting with civility?

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct state general notions that attorneys should be fair to opposing counsel, refrain from engaging in prejudicial conduct toward the administration of justice, and maintain the decorum of the tribunal.3 In addition, some states and local bar associations have adopted their own standards for civility that are more specific or detailed than the Model Rules.4 For example, California has adopted Attorney Guidelines of Civility and Professionalism, which is a set of voluntary guidelines and goals regarding best practices of civility in the legal profession.5 The District of Columbia Bar has adopted Voluntary Standards for Civility for attorneys to use as a guide for acting with civility in their legal practice.6 And New York has adopted Standards of Civility as well as Rules of Professional Conduct.7

The most common themes among a majority of state civility codes include

(1) recogniz[ing] the importance of keeping commitments and of seeking agreement and accommodation with regard to scheduling and extensions; (2) be[ing] respectful and act[ing] in a courteous, cordial, and civil manner; (3) be[ing] prompt, punctual, and prepared; (4) maintain[ing] honesty and personal integrity; (5) communicat[ing] with opposing counsel; (6) avoid[ing] actions taken merely to delay or harass; (7) ensur[ing] proper conduct before the court; (8) act[ing] with dignity and cooperation in pre-trial proceedings; (9) act[ing] as a role model to the client and public and as a mentor to young lawyers; and (10) utiliz[ing] the court system in an efficient and fair manner.8

Overall, civility is an important concept within the legal profession that should be considered when acting as an advocate and counsel. Civility can be defined simply as acting with formal politeness and courtesy when communicating or working with opposing parties, opposing counsel, clients, and outside parties.

Actions Not Rising to the Level of Civility

Although the term civility is used often, there are some common misconceptions as to what constitutes civility when it comes to conducting business within the legal profession.

First, civility is not the same as simply having good manners.9 Good manners could be considered a component of acting polite or courteous, but this alone does not constitute acting with civility. It is one thing to be a polite person, but it is another to act politely within the profession when dealing with difficult clients or opposing counsel in an adversarial environment. Although it may be considered uncivil to act with impoliteness, the concept of being polite is not the only component to achieving civility within the profession.

Second, liking someone is not within the purview of acting with civility. Civility is not demonstrated merely by showing amity toward those with whom you interact in your practice. According to author Jayne R. Reardon,

[c]ivility compels us to show respect even for strangers who may be sharing our space, whether in the public square, in the office, in the courtroom, or in cyberspace.10

However, the absence of criticism toward another does not automatically mean that you are acting with civility.11 It can be argued that attorneys can act with civility as long as they do not vocalize their criticism of another person. Yet, civility is more focused on professionals’ conduct than on their negative or critical behavior toward someone else. Therefore, just because attorneys do not have critical thoughts against another does not mean that they are acting with civility.

Finally, attorneys are not necessarily acting with civility just because they are in agreement with others. Rather, “underlying the codes of civility is the assumption that people will disagree.”12 This is further emphasized within the adversarial nature of the legal profession. Opposing parties can act with civility toward one another while disagreeing on their theories of liability or fault within a case. The nature of the legal profession is surrounded by disagreement in opinions when it comes to advocating for opposite sides of a case. Thus, civility does not mean agreeing with someone; instead, civility is the ability to act with politeness and professionalism when two parties disagree with one another.

How Civility Applies to the Legal Profession

As stated above, many states have adopted their own mandatory or voluntary standards or codes of civility to practice within the legal profession. In addition to these standards, there are ethical obligations that all attorneys must abide by in order to practice law.

Model Rules of Professional Conduct.One of the requirements for becoming an attorney is passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), an exam designed to measure the knowledge and understanding of established standards related to a lawyer’s professional conduct. Each state has adopted a minimum score that an aspiring attorney needs to achieve on the exam in order to be admitted to the state’s bar.

The MPRE tests, among other things, knowledge of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The Model Rules are adopted, in one form or another, by each state in order to ensure that attorneys are held accountable for acting in a professional manner. These rules specifically hit the key points and concepts of ethical standards that attorneys must follow within the legal profession.

Although civility is not expressly defined, there are some specific rules that pertain to civility among attorneys within the profession. For instance, Rule 3.3 requires an attorney to act with candor toward the tribunal and avoid knowingly making false statements, failing to disclose controlling legal authority, and knowingly offering false evidence.13 Similarly, Rules 4.1 through 4.4 require truthful communication between parties and opposing counsel and acting appropriately when communicating or dealing with unrepresented or third parties.14 In addition, attorneys who are supervisory lawyers or partners within a law firm are held to specific standards of conduct under the Model Rules.15 Overall, these rules touch on civility and govern attorneys’ ethical responsibilities in their legal practice.

Zealous advocacy versus acting without civility. In the legal profession, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and any adopted rules or guidelines of civility contain the standards of conduct that attorneys are expected to follow. Because these rules and guidelines are in place, attorneys often violate these standards when trying to act as zealous advocates for their clients. That being said, one common question that arises is this: “How can an attorney act with zealous advocacy for his client while also acting with civility?”

The Model Rules specifically endorse zealous advocacy. In particular, the comments in Rule 1.2 state that an attorney

should pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite opposition, obstruction or personal inconvenience to a lawyer, and take whatever lawful and ethical measures are required to vindicate a client’s cause or endeavor. A lawyer must also act with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client’s behalf.16

Zealous advocacy is not often a problem for lawyers. As legal advocates, attorneys are inclined to argue for their clients and support these arguments with valid and persuasive legal theories.

However, when advocating on another’s behalf, lawyers easily can get caught up in the arguments and zealously try to advocate that their particular point of view is the correct and more reasonable viewpoint. This is where it can become tricky: it is challenging to act as a strong advocate while also acting with civility. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct address this problem, although without specifically using the term civility:

A lawyer is not bound, however, to press for every advantage that might be realized for a client. . . . The lawyer’s duty to act with reasonable diligence does not require the use of offensive tactics or preclude the treating of all persons involved in the legal process with courtesy and respect.17

Although these rules are informative, the question that remains is this: “What are the limits of zealous advocacy?” In other words, what are the indications that counsel has gone too far in challenging a court’s ruling or an opponent’s position?

The Model Rules, as mentioned, offer no specific definition of or standards for civility within the legal profession, but they do offer some guidance on the line between zealous advocacy and failing to act with civility. For example, Model Rule 3.4 states that an attorney should act with fairness and courtesy to opposing parties and counsel by not unlawfully obstructing access to evidence, not falsifying evidence, not knowingly disobeying obligations under the rules of the court, and not making frivolous discovery requests.18 This rule promotes acting with civility toward opposing parties and counsel in the context of trial procedures, but the concept of civility also is applicable in all other practices of law, including negotiating corporate transactions and mediating settlement agreements prior to trial.

Clearly, there is no single definitive answer to the question of the line between zealous advocacy and incivility. It will serve lawyers well to remember that zealous advocacy does not require incivility. Attorneys always should consider how they would like to be treated and perceived. Clients, judges, and opponents will notice the difference between true zealous advocacy that is tempered and reasonable and attorneys who are difficult, rude, inconsiderate, overly critical, condescending, or standoffish. Attorneys who are perceived as kind, bright, considerate, and reasonable while being zealous advocates will reap the benefits of such conduct with their reputation in the legal community and at the courthouse.

Consequences for Acting without Civility

Acting with civility as an attorney is an important and essential part of the job. In fact, in multiple states, judges are inclined to give various sanctions to attorneys who clearly act without civility or professionalism. These sanctions are meant to deter this type of behavior within the profession.

Misconduct under the Model Rules. Although civility is not mentioned explicitly in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Model Rule 8.4 outlines what constitutes professional misconduct.19 Actions that constitute misconduct include violating the Model Rules, committing a criminal act, engaging in conduct that counts as discrimination or harassment, engaging in dishonesty or deceit, and engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to administrative justice.20 Additionally, it is considered professional misconduct for lawyers to state or imply that they have the “ability to improperly influence a government agency or official to achieve results that violate the [Model Rules]” and for lawyers to help a judge in conduct that breaches judicial conduct rules.21 Although these are the listed actions that constitute misconduct, judges and state bars may deem it necessary to give sanctions or take disciplinary measures for actions not specifically listed within this rule or any of the Model Rules.

Examples of sanctions. Courts recognize the importance of practicing civility within the legal profession, and courts in every jurisdiction have the power to impose sanctions or disciplinary measures to deter inappropriate conduct and incivility within the legal profession. A few recent examples of sanctions granted for incivility vary from purely monetary sanctions to suspension from the practice of law.

Monetary sanctions have been invoked from coast to coast. One case involved a magistrate judge in California who imposed a monetary sanction against an attorney for spilling coffee in the direction of opposing counsel.22 In that case, counsel for both sides were aggressively arguing in a deposition and insulting each other. These actions were relayed to the magistrate judge presiding over the case, who imposed a $250 sanction for damages caused during the deposition. A monetary sanction also was imposed in a New York case: a magistrate judge ordered a sanction that covered deposition fees when an attorney frivolously made 600 objections in one deposition.23 There, the judge recognized that the plethora of objections during this deposition was an unnecessary waste of time and resources for all parties involved. And in Illinois, a U.S. district judge imposed sanctions that included not only payments but also mandatory anger-management training when an attorney made false accusations and carried out an unhinged attack on an expert witness.24

Beyond monetary sanctions, there is a more severe sanction that judges could impose on attorneys for acting with incivility: suspension. For example, in one recent instance, the New York Appellate Division, First Department, panel issued a four-month suspension from the New York Bar and one year of mandatory counseling for a prominent real estate attorney who acted with “inappropriate litigation behavior” on multiple occasions.25 In Florida, the supreme court ordered a two-year suspension for an attorney’s rude and antagonistic behavior throughout a civil case.26 Although some argued that this was a severe punishment, the Florida Supreme Court noted that the attorney committed multiple violations of the state’s rules of professional conduct and acted unprofessionally and inappropriately on several occasions. In another case, the Supreme Court of South Carolina imposed a 90-day suspension and required the violating attorney to complete a legal ethics and professionalism program due to his uncivil and unprofessional behavior.27 In this instance, after multiple warnings about incivility, the Supreme Court of South Carolina felt that the attorney needed to be reprimanded for his uncivil actions.

These are just some of the multiple examples of judges and state bars acting to prevent incivility within the profession. These sanctions are created to prevent inappropriate and unprofessional behavior among lawyers. With the potential for sanctions in mind, it is important to act strategically with civility and professionalism when serving as an advocate and counselor. Attorneys need to think about the consequences of their actions when representing themselves, their law firms, and their clients.

Sanction review. The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, often reviews decisions made by the referee of a Sanction Hearing to determine whether the sanctions or disciplinary measures administered were appropriate under the circumstances. The Supreme Court of New York has held that

[o]n a motion to affirm a referee’s report and recommendation, this Court must review the Referee’s report and determine whether the Referee properly found, “by a fair preponderance of the evidence, each essential element of the charge[s].”28

There are numerous examples of the Supreme Court of New York analyzing the decisions made by the Attorney Grievance Committee and referees of the ensuing Sanction Hearings in order to ensure that the proper sanction is given for misconduct.29

For example, in In re Zappin, the court affirmed the referee’s order to disbar an attorney who continuously violated multiple rules of professional conduct and performed egregious acts of misconduct over a four-year period. Some of these actions included

his repeated acts of domestic violence toward his wife; his false testimony at the custody trial; his introduction of falsified evidence in the form of altered text messages; his presentation of misleading testimony through his expert witnesses; his flouting the directives of three judges; his setting up of a fake website about the attorney for the child in the custody action and posting derogatory messages about her on it. . . .30

The court in this case believed that it was appropriate to order the attorney to be disbarred according to the guidelines and disciplinary precedent set in the jurisdiction.

In In re Giorgini, the court reevaluated the public censure sanction and determined that the attorney’s sanction should be a three-month suspension instead.31 In this case, multiple counts were evaluated by the court, the Attorney Grievance Committee, and the referee for the Sanction Hearing.32 The court ultimately concluded that a more severe sanction was necessary due to the attorney’s specific misconduct.33

However, courts also understand that the severity of disciplinary sanctions must be appropriate and reasonable for the identified misconduct. In In re Steinberg, the panel of judges denied the suggested two-year suspension for an attorney in conformity with precedent within the jurisdiction.34 In this case, the respondent, Jonathan Steinberg, was sanctioned two times prior for frivolous litigation conduct and sending an inappropriate ex parte email to a judge presiding over one of his cases.35 Although he was found guilty of violating multiple rules of professional conduct, the court, relying on previous cases, determined that the proposed sanction was too severe under the circumstances.36

Furthermore, regardless of sanctions imposed on a defendant elsewhere, the Supreme Court of New York has been inclined to impose the sanctions that its judges believe are appropriate in specific circumstances. For instance, in In re Foo, the court held that a public censure was appropriate for an attorney who was sanctioned by British Columbia for misconduct.37 The court held that the actions performed by the attorney in British Columbia did not constitute misconduct that required more severe sanctions than a public censure in the New York jurisdiction.38

These cases exemplify the analysis that courts use to administer the most appropriate sanctions or disciplinary actions for practicing attorneys. It appears that the goal for courts in this jurisdiction is to deter inappropriate behavior without imposing sanctions that would be too severe for the misconduct performed.

Conclusion

A lawyer’s professional conduct goes hand in hand with that lawyer’s reputation for excelling in practice. In today’s world, “one uncivil outburst may haunt an attorney for years; and reputations may be built and destroyed quickly.”39 Clients and others notice a lawyer’s communication style and respect for the client, other parties and lawyers, and the court—and any person who has contact with a lawyer can comment on that lawyer’s performance and professionalism through social media forums or on websites that specifically rate and rank attorneys. Research shows that lawyers who exhibit civility and professionalism get higher ratings and are viewed as more effective lawyers.40 Thus, incivility, in all likelihood, will have an adverse effect on a lawyer’s reputation and, ultimately, that lawyer’s livelihood. Accordingly, all lawyers should refocus some of their efforts on increased civility in the profession.

Lawyers should think about the meaning of civility and practice the old adage of treating others how they would want to be treated. Today’s world facilitates greater client influence and requires increased transparency from lawyers. Thus, civility and demeanor are more important than ever in building relationships, credibility in legal practice and the courtroom, reputations, and job satisfaction—and, of course, in avoiding disciplinary measures. Civility and professionalism are required in the legal profession, but lawyers also should embrace such behavior because it is the right thing to do and can help to reignite not only the quality of service and justice that should be expected but also the respect and reputation that the rule of law and the legal profession deserve.

Notes

1Civility, Merriam-Webster.com, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/civility (last visited Apr. 4, 2019).

2Civility, Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/civility (last visited Apr. 4, 2019).

3Incorporating Civility into Your Law Practice, FindLaw, https://practice.findlaw.com/practice-guide/incorporating-civility-into-your-law-practice.html (last visited Apr. 17, 2019).

4Id.see also Professionalism Codes, American Bar Association (last updated Mar. 2017) (listing specific civility standards by state), www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/resources/professionalism/professionalism_codes.

5. State Bar of Cal., Civility Toolbox (2009), www.calbar.ca.gov/Portals/0/documents/ethics/Civility/Atty-Civility-Guide-Revised_Sept-2014.pdf (last visited Apr. 17, 2019).

6Voluntary Standards for Civility, D.C. Bar, www.dcbar.org/bar-resources/legal-ethics/voluntary-standards-for-civility (last visited Apr. 17, 2019).

7. N.Y. State Unified Court Sys., Rules of Professional Conduct and New York State Standards of Civility (May 1, 2013), www.nysba.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=55797 (last visited Apr. 17, 2019).

8. Donald E. Campbell, Raise Your Right Hand and Swear to Be Civil: Defining Civility as an Obligation of Professional Responsibility, 47 Gonz. L. Rev. 99, 109 (Nov. 2, 2011).

9. Jayne R. Reardon, Civility as the Core of Professionalism, American Bar Association (Sept. 19, 2018), www.americanbar.org/groups/business_law/publications/blt/2014/09/02_reardon.

10Id.

11Id.

12Id.

13. Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 3.3 (Am. Bar Ass’n 2016).

14Id. r. 4.1–4.4.

15Id. r. 5.1.

16Id. r. 1.2 cmt. 1.

17Id. r. 1.3 cmt. 1.

18Id. r. 3.4.

19Id. r. 8.4.

20Id.

21Id.

22. Joe Mullin, Judge Sanctions Lawyer for Splashing Opposing Counsel with Iced Coffee, ARS Technica (Jan. 30, 2017), https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/01/tech-startups-lawyer-sanctioned-for-throwing-coffee-during-deposition.

23. Debra Cassens Weiss, Judge Sanctions New York City After Lawyer Makes 600 Objections in One Deposition, A.B.A. J. (May 17, 2017), www.abajournal.com/news/article/judge_sanctions_city_for_lawyers_plethora_of_deposition_objections.

24. Debra Cassens Weiss, Lawyer Is Sanctioned $50K for Alleged ‘Inappropriate Diatribes’ and ‘Unhinged Attack’ on Expert, A.B.A. J. (Mar. 29, 2018), www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyer_is_sanctioned_50k_for_alleged_inappropriate_diatribes_and_unhinged_a.

25. Jack Newsham, First Department Suspends Adam Leitman Bailey for 4 Months, N.Y. L.J. (Apr. 2, 2019), www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2019/04/02/first-department-suspends-adam-leitman-bailey-for-four-months.

26. Samson Habte, Lawyer’s ‘Appalling’ Incivility Warrants Tougher Sanction Than What Bar Sought, BNA (Nov. 20, 2013) (subscription-only access available on the Bloomberg Law website).

27. G.M. Filisko, You’re Out of Order! Dealing with the Costs of Incivility in the Legal Profession, A.B.A. J. (Jan. 1, 2013), www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/youre_out_of_order_dealing_with_the_costs_of_incivility_in_the_legal.

28In re Zappin, 160 A.D.3d 1, 7, 73 N.Y.S.3d 182, 186 (App. Div. 2018) (quoting N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 22, § 1240.8(b)(1)).

29See, e.g.id. at 7, 73 N.Y.S.3d at 187; In re Foo, 159 A.D.3d 1218, 1219, 72 N.Y.S.3d 249, 250 (App. Div. 2018); In re Steinberg, 167 A.D.3d 206, 211 (App. Div. 2018).

30Zappin, 160 A.D.3d at 8, 73 N.Y.S.3d at 187.

31In re Giorgini, 166 A.D.3d 43, 47, 84 N.Y.S.3d 153, 156 (App. Div. 2018).

32Id. at 155–56.

33Id.

34Steinberg, 167 A.D.3d at 211.

35Id. at 207–08.

36Id. at 210–11.

37In re Foo, 159 A.D.3d 1218, 1219, 72 N.Y.S.3d 249, 250 (App. Div. 2018).

38Id.

39See Reardon, supra note 9.

40Id.

source

 

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