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November is ‘Legal Professionalism Month’

'Professionalism and conduct of our members, both in their work and outside it, affect the public’s perception of lawyers. When our professionalism slips, the public takes note and our entire justice system takes a hit'

Legal Professionalism Month

The Florida Supreme Court is partnering with The Florida Bar to declare November “Legal Professionalism Month” and asking members to rededicate themselves to the highest ideals of professionalism and highlight the importance of civility in all they do.

Bar President Michael Tanner said it’s the responsibility of Bar leadership to promote and fortify the need for high standards.

Michael Tanner

Mike Tanner

“Professionalism and conduct of our members, both in their work and outside it, affect the public’s perception of lawyers,” Tanner said. “When our professionalism slips, the public takes note and our entire justice system takes a hit. When members of the public do not hold trust in attorneys, they are less likely to hire one, diminishing their own chances at the kind of just outcome they could obtain through a lawyer’s extensive knowledge and skills.”

Chief Justice Charles Canady said having Florida Bar members exhibit exceptional professionalism in their practice is of high importance to the court.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Canady

Chief Justice Charles Canady

“I applaud The Florida Bar’s dedication to encourage lawyers to attain excellence in the practice of law in service to the people of Florida, to maintain and foster civility at all times, to support the advancement of the legal profession, and to strive for the highest level of professionalism in every respect,” Canady said. “Legal Professionalism Month is an important reminder of the Bar’s responsibility to instill in its members the need to practice ‘the principles of duty and service to the public, to improve the administration of justice, and to advance the science of jurisprudence.’”

Tanner said while each of the Oath of Admission’s principles are critical, an overarching theme is the importance of professionalism and civility in the profession.

“Especially the principle that states: ‘To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications,’” Tanner said.

The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism defines professionalism as the “pursuit and practice of the highest ideals and tenets of the legal profession. It embraces far more than simply complying with the minimal standards of professional conduct. The essential ingredients of professionalism are character, competence, civility, and commitment.”

Toward that end, the Bar’s Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism recently released the latest edition of its Professionalism Handbook, that may be downloaded for free from the center’s website.

Rebecca Bandy

Rebecca Bandy

“The handbooks are traditionally used by law students in professional responsibility courses but practicing lawyers and judges request and use them as well,” said Rebecca Bandy, director of the Center for Professionalism.

The 171-page handbook, which is updated every two years, includes a collection of professionalism resources that highlight the importance of civility and professionalism in the profession. Bandy said It includes selected chapters of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar along with Professionalism Expectations, and the Guidelines for Professional Conduct. The handbook also includes the Creed of Professionalism, the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar, and In re: Code for Resolving Professionalism Complaints (SC13-688).

Katie Young, the center’s assistant director, said these resources reflect the professional identity every member should strive for.

The Center for Professionalism offers resources to help lawyers freshen up on professionalism and ethics expectations. Housed on the center’s webpage is information on mentoring and obtaining a mentor, #ProTipTuesday videos, professionalism CLEs, tips from seasoned lawyers across the state, and more.

Lack of professionalism consistently ranks among the highest concerns for Florida Bar members.

The 2021 Florida Bar Member Survey, emailed to nearly 4,000 lawyers and generating a robust 34% response rate in February, was no different.

A sizeable majority, 57% of respondents, said they would approve of “stronger methods” to enforce professional standards, with a mere 11% opposed to stronger enforcement, and 32% unsure. More than half, 54%, believed stronger enforcement by judges would be the most effective for addressing unprofessional behavior.

Gary Lesser

Gary Lesser

One of Tanner’s key initiatives this year is the creation of the Special Committee for the Review of Professionalism in Florida, co-chaired by President-elect Gary Lesser and Elizabeth Hunter. Hunter also chairs the Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism. Tanner directed the special committee to review the Bar’s professionalism standards, how and when the standards are taught to lawyers  throughout their careers, and how the standards are enforced.

Lesser says the special committee is on track to deliver final recommendations to the Board of Governors by the end of the year and the standards, education, and enforcement subcommittees are making significant progress.

“I believe we can make a difference in this,” Tanner said. “We can improve how we behave, thereby lowering one source of stress in the practice of law and at the same time improving how the public perceives us.”

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