We often discuss civility on this blog and we have had some serious challenges to our rule from those who have denounced civility as a standard, including the hosts of some blogs. Indeed, we have discussed the gradual decline of civility and courtesy in society from sporting events to television. Now the California bar is taking a commendable stand and requiring new lawyers to take an oath to behave with “dignity, courtesy and integrity.” That may surprise you if you assumed that such a commitment is already express in the oath of lawyers in all states. It is not and the change was a direct response to what the California bar found was (much like our own experience) a rapid decline in civility among lawyers.
The oath will hopefully result in more actions taken against those who bring down the profession with rude and unprofessional conduct. I came across one such lawyer in New Orleans during the impeachment trial of Judge Thomas Porteous. This lawyer was representing a potential witness and responded to a simple inquiry by a young associate with a litany of profanity and threats. This was not a hostile witness nor in preparation of service of a subpoena. When I called, he was a bit more retrained but was rude and offensive as he chest-pounded this way through the call. It was shocking even for someone who have practiced for a many years. There is a difference of course between being tough and being uncivil. I have been in a lot of heated cases where there is no love loss between lawyers. However, the vast majority remain civil and professional. Those who do not are the source for the negative perceptions of many of our profession. This is why I have objected to the increasing appearance of embarrassing and unprofessional advertisements from lawyers (here and here). We seem to be losing control over the conduct and decorum of our profession.
On the civility front, the lack of the oath does not mean that it is not already required. All bar rules that I have reviewed contain professionalism requirements. Likewise, court rules expressly require such standards. However, adding civility to the oath is an important reminder for young lawyers who may be influenced by embarrassing figures like Nancy Grace on television.
Amen, California, amen.
Source: ABA Journal