By attorney Michael Ehline: If California could find a way to regulate the legal profession, this is it. Rambo style litigators may now be under watch from above. Trial attorneys make up a substantial portion of the professional class in the state, and now Californians may find a change in attitude. Due to a decision of the state Supreme Court, attorneys are now required to promise to act with “dignity, courtesy, and integrity.” The rules may not make as much of a difference in the court room, but with the need for competent attorneys, ranging from practicing constitutional theory to injury lawsuits, this could make a difference.
The addition to the oath fits in with the current standard, promising to uphold the state and national constitutions. According to the State Bar Association’s brief on the matter, the changes would be “consistent with the State Bar’s past and ongoing efforts to enhance lawyer professionalism and civility.” Some attorneys will recall that a similar rule was at one time, a codified and mandatory requirement of the CA Bar. Some lawyers who had been brought before the Bar with charges for acting in an “uncivil” manner lodged against them by opposing counsel, disagree with these types of requirements, as the charges and their outcome could be decided by a panel of attorneys who are politically opposed to the charged lawyer, for one reason or another.
My view is that political correctness is destroying our country, and that rules like this, once made mandatory, will absolutely chill advocacy, and speech. The marketplace will ultimately decide what attorney stays in business. Although it is a profession, personalities of some lawyers definitely rub others the wrong way.
Forcing rules upon jurists, rather than let society decide with their pocketbook, can hurt and not help the legal profession. Guidelines for behaving in a civil manner can be found in Blackstone’s Commentaries, Psalms and Proverbs, and hopefully were taught to all of us by our parents. Proponents will argue that this ruling is a mere goal, and not a punishable offense. However, my view is that lawyers should have a personal sense of honor and they do not need a nanny or policy goal to tell them how to behave.
Vague and ambiguous rules simply open the door for a bureaucrat to dictate how an advocate should advocate. Taboo is taboo and people will know it when they see it. People will steer clear of a bad lawyer. With online reviews, rating systems and organizations like the Circle of Legal Trust, exacting standards can be found and retained by needy clients.
“Civility” Oath Rule Adopted by Supreme Court: http://www.courts.ca.gov/25857.htm
Dealing With an Uncivil Opponent “Finding the High Road”: http://coloradomentoring.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Walters-WE.pdf
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