At press time, many issues remain unresolved as to the future of State Bar funding. It is still too early to predict the outcome. But no matter what the resolution, it is clear to me that attorney professionalism and civility will remain a high priority for us in the legal profession.
The warning signs are apparent — that the concepts of professionalism and civility are often ignored.
The attorney who lashes out in court. The attorney who is more concerned with his or her profit margin than with professional integrity. The attorney who launches a personal attack on opposing counsel or the court.
Every single instance shakes the foundation and credibility of our profession — and demands our attention.
How are we to tackle this disturbing issue on a broad scale? Clearly, formal discipline is not the answer in most cases.
Nor can we rely on any one remedy or entity to solve the problem. We need the help of local bar associations, judges, law schools and community leaders, as well as our membership.
A work in progress
The movement to reinstill the concepts of professionalism and civility is currently in progress.
A series of panel discussions, named in honor of the late California Supreme Court Justice Allen J. Broussard, begins in January and is geared toward addressing the concepts of professionalism and civility to our newest bar members.
Jointly sponsored by the Supreme Court, the State Bar and the Judicial Council, the panel presentations will seek to teach a new generation of attorneys the values and importance of maintaining the highest possible standards of professional conduct and integrity.
One of the first panels will be presented by Chief Justice Ron George in Alameda and another by Justice Ming Chin in San Diego.
The presentations are incorporated into “Bridging the Gap” programs offered statewide by local bar associations.
I am extremely proud of this program and have high hopes for the values it articulates. It truly represents what we can accomplish by identifying a serious, timely issue and working together to find solutions.
In a special report to the State Bar Board of Governors last January, board member Ann Ravel of San Jose examined a range of issues and concerns regarding attorney professionalism and civility and was given the go-ahead to take action.
At the heart of her proposal was a counseling project that would subject an attorney to scrutiny from colleagues and local peer counseling in cases in which the attorney’s conduct crossed the line.
Review by colleagues
The aim was to put questionable conduct — behavior that does not constitute a disciplinable offense — into the hands of the attorney’s local colleagues.
Inspired by my fellow board member’s presentation, I invited her to participate in a panel discussion at a San Diego County Bar Association “Bridging the Gap” program for new admittees.
At the same time, I learned that Supreme Court Justice Chin was actively speaking on similar issues.
The idea of creating a panel which included such a broad range of perspectives was intriguing. I contacted Justice Chin and he, too, agreed to be part of the panel.
The first panel discussion was so informative and thought-provoking that the videotaped version has since been distributed as an MCLE course.
But even more importantly, the first presentation sparked the creation of the Broussard panels, which in my view, have even greater potential.
Other recent State Bar efforts also have focused on promoting attorney professionalism and civility.
The State Bar and the Santa Clara County Bar Association jointly instigated the peer counseling pilot project proposed by Ann Ravel. On another front, the State Bar and the American Bar Association recently co-sponsored the first ever “Conference for Professionalism in the 21st Century” to generate ideas for reversing the apparent trend.
The concept has also been identified by the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.