Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

January, 2005

Civility Still Top Concern in Legal Community
~Nearly 1,000 attorneys take professionalism course~

By Janet Stidman Eveleth

Last month, nearly 1,000 attorneys completed MSBA’s Professionalism Course and were sworn-in to practice law by the Court of Appeals of Maryland and welcomed as the newest members of MSBA. On December 10-11, MSBA’s volunteer faculty of 60 judges and attorneys presented the day-long professionalism program to the new attorneys at the Baltimore Convention Center. With this latest class, over 20,000 of Maryland’s 33,000 attorneys have now participated in MSBA’s professionalism course.

Yet attorney incivility continues to plague Maryland’s legal community. Thus, professionalism remains a top concern of the Bar and Bench. While MSBA and the Court have made strides in addressing attorney civility through professionalism programs, civility codes, mentoring and other initiatives in the last 15 years, unprofessional attorney behavior is still a major problem in the contemporary practice of law.

When this issue first surfaced in the late ’80s, MSBA conducted a comprehensive lawyer satisfaction study, then convened a professionalism conference to delve into the findings. Pursuing one of the conference’s top recommendations, MSBA designed a course to acquaint new attorneys with ethical and civility issues at the beginning of their legal careers. At MSBA’s urging, the Court of Appeals mandated this course for all new Maryland attorneys in 1992.

The Bar and the Bench hoped this would alleviate the alarming rate of lawyer dissatisfaction and growing lack of professionalism cited in the study and subsequent conference. However, attorney incivility not only continued, it grew worse. The Bar and the Bench then scrutinized the behavior of more seasoned attorneys, finding them to be part of the problem, and determined that a professionalism course would benefit the entire Bar.

Therefore, MSBA asked the Court to consider requiring a professionalism and ethics course for all experienced attorneys. In early 2002, the Court created the Maryland Judicial Task Force on Professionalism to examine this proposal as well as attorney civility in general. The task force conducted a series of 22 town hall meetings across the state and found Maryland lawyers were troubled about the uncivil environment in their local legal communities. After an 18-month probe, it recommended the creation of a court commission to oversee civility in today’s practice of law.

Court Professional Commission Tackles Civility

Last January, the Court of Appeals of Maryland established a 36 member Professionalism Commission, headed by the Honorable Lynne A. Battaglia, to promote professionalism as an important core value in Maryland’s litigation process and its institutions. Its goals are to examine the task force’s recommendations, advance professionalism through various new initiatives and address lawyers’ concerns about declining professionalism. The Commission’s focus includes attorney mentoring, professionalism guidelines and standards, attorney sanctions and discovery disputes.

“The Commission will integrate attorneys and judges into Maryland’s professionalism movement to ensure the highest degree of professionalism in this state’s legal community, inside and outside of the courtroom,” reports Battaglia. “Its efforts should enhance professionalism and emphasize the importance of ‘community’ among judges and lawyers in Maryland.”

The bulk of Battaglia’s Commission is being handled through eight subcommittees: Judges’ Role in the Bar and with Communities; Standards of Professional Conduct including Identifying Indicia of Professionalism; Professionalism Guidelines and Sanctions for Use by Judges; Discovery Abuse Issues Including Appointment of Discovery Masters; Development of a Professionalism Course for Lawyers who Exhibit Unprofessional Behavior; Update Existing Professionalism Course for New Admittees; Defining Unauthorized Practice of Law; and Mentoring.

The subcommittees have devoted the last year to examining and researching their issue and are now beginning to report back to the full Commission. Every month for the next eight months, one subcommittee will offer its findings to the Commission for consideration. The Commission is considering the Standards of Professional Conduct this month, discovery will follow in February, then, respectively, the judge’s role, the professionalism course for unprofessional behavior, the new admits professionalism course and mentoring.

“This is like drafting the Declaration of Independence,” declares Battaglia. “The reports are generating a great deal of debate and engaging everyone.” After all reports are submitted, reviewed and examined for consistency, a final report will be drafted. “We need to decide what to recommend to the Court of Appeals and what role the Commission will play in the future,” she adds.

Ultimately, the Commission is expected to develop professional guidelines and sanctions for adoption by the judiciary, reflecting the expectations that lawyers will behave appropriately in the litigation of both criminal and civil actions and in non-litigation contexts.

To date, Battaglia is pleased with the Commission’s progress and the visibility it gives professionalism. “I think we have raised the consciousness of the existence, or lack thereof, of professionalism,” she notes. “People are much more aware of it now and are discussing it.” She is hopeful a final report will be forthcoming later this year.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January, 2005

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