In the last 18 years, 22,000+ Maryland attorneys have passed through the gateway of MSBA’s Professionalism Course, learning firsthand about legal ethics, Maryland’s Rules of Professional Conduct and the everyday practice of law from a dedicated faculty of volunteer lawyers and judges. On December 3 and 4, another 1,200+ new attorneys completed the professionalism course, raising the number of attorneys participating in this valuable educational experience to over 23,200, a full two-thirds of Maryland’s Bar. The professionalism course showcases legal ethics, offers insight into the realities of the everyday practice of law and gives new attorneys an appreciation of what it means to be a lawyer.
“[THE PROFESSIONALISM COURSE]
aspires to communicate directly the professional expectations incumbent upon lawyers and to impart the skills necessary to meet those expectations.”
KEITH TRUFFER, Chair, MSBA Professionalism Committee
MSBA believes the “Professionalism Beyond Ethics” course, launched in May 1992 to instill professional values in new attorneys and give them a practical overview of today’s practice of law as they begin their legal careers, is one of the legal profession’s best vehicles to demonstrate a lawyer’s responsibility to adhere to the Code of Civility and professional standards. Presented by the Association’s Professionalism Committee, the program instills pride, dedication, civility, compassion and the adherence of the highest standard in Maryland’s new attorneys.
“Professionalism Beyond Ethics” has been fine-tuned over the years to reflect advances in the practice of law, new technologies and the changing dynamics of new generations of lawyers and is now undergoing a facelift. As required under Rule 11, the course is being reviewed prior to December 31, 2010. The Court’s Professionalism Commission, chaired by Judge Lynne A. Battaglia, is examining the program in conjunction with MSBA’s Professionalism Committee and the new “model,” if approved by the Court of Appeals, will be unveiled in May 2011.
“The MSBA is very pleased to assist the Court of Appeals in reviewing and revising the current Professionalism Course provided to all new admittees pursuant to Bar Admission Rule 11,” reports MSBA President Thomas D. Murphy. To this end, Murphy has convened a small “working group” of five members of the Association’s Professionalism Committee, chaired by Keith Truffer, to work in concert with the Court to continue to improve the course. “There are some exciting and different ways the Court, utilizing the continued volunteerism of MSBA members, can introduce the lessons of the practice of law and legal ethics to those who are privileged to join the Maryland Bar.”
The judges and lawyers use interactive workshops, video vignettes, role-playing and individual presentations to candidly discuss the various different ethical situations practitioners encounter as well as suggested solutions. The program focuses on the attorney’s relationship with the court, clients, community and peers. It also serves as an excellent mentoring opportunity as new attorneys learn what it truly means to be a lawyer from the faculty.
The program addresses the realities of the everyday practice of law from the professional experiences of seasoned practitioners. One of its most valuable points is its emphasis on the business aspects of law practice, covering everything from handling escrow accounts, accounting and legal malpractice insurance to attorney reporting requirements. One of its biggest proponents, former Bar Counsel Melvin Hirshman, often held MSBA’s professionalism course up as a “shining example,” attributing it as “one of the keys to Maryland’s declining attorney grievances” in recent years.
“The course offers a unique experience for new lawyers to hear from and ask questions of seasoned lawyers and judges about the critical role of professionalism and civility in the practice of law,” declares Truffer. “It aspires to communicate directly the professional expectations incumbent upon lawyers and to impart the skills necessary to meet those expectations.”
The course was actually mandated by the Court of Appeals in 1992 when it approved Rule 11, requiring the completion of a professionalism course for all new Maryland attorneys before they could be sworn-in to practice law in the state. This concept emerged from the MSBA’s 1988 Lawyer Satisfaction Survey, which uncovered growing problems of attorney incivility, hostility, disrespectful behavior and an overall decline in legal professionalism. MSBA next convened a Professionalism Conference, where a required professionalism course for all new attorneys was conceived by the Bar and the Bench.
Over the years, the course has undergone modifications mirroring the changing practice of law. Its faculty has been retrained and course materials have been updated to keep the course timely. Participants also complete evaluation forms at the conclusion of each program and responses are generally positive, but the Committee still reviews them to determine whether upgrades are warranted.
Currently, the Commission’s proposals for the course include: an enhanced emphasis on professional responsibilities, pro bono work, bar association involvement and ADR; smaller breakout groups focusing on specific areas of law practice, i.e. litigation, general practice; lengthening its timeframe and adding more structured curriculum; and an updated handbook for participants. MSBA is generally supportive of the Commission’s proposals but raises concerns about the expense of the course, which is solely borne by MSBA.
MSBA’s professionalism course gives new attorneys the chance to examine and prepare for the difficult legal professionalism challenges they will encounter in the everyday practice of law. It is a valuable learning experience for new practitioners, giving them the chance to discuss various situations with a faculty of experienced judges and attorneys. Most walk away with more realistic expectations of the daily practice of law and are better equipped to encounter ethical dilemmas in a professional manner. They are better prepared to start practicing law.