New California Rules Codify Politeness

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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 Oath

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. And it was a codified and mandatory requirement of the CA Bar.

Some lawyers gt before the Bar with charges for acting in an “uncivil” manner lodged against them. Often this was done by opposing counsel. Many lawyers disagree with these types of requirements. Deciding the outcome could be a panel of political-minded or competing attorneys. And that could spell doom to the charged lawyer, for one reason or another.

My view is that political correctness is destroying our country. Also, if rules like this become mandatory, they will chill advocacy and speech. So why not let the marketplace decide what attorney stays in business? Is that so novel? Although it is a profession, personalities of some lawyers rub others the wrong way.

Forcing Rules?

Forcing rules upon jurists, rather than let society decide with their pocketbook, can hurt and not help the legal profession. Guidelines for a lawyer’s civil behavior are in Blackstone’s Commentaries. And they can be found in Psalms and Proverbs. But hopefully, you were taught to all of this by our parents.

Proponents will argue that this ruling is a mere goal. After all, it is yet not a punishable offense. However, my view is that lawyers should have a personal sense of honor. We do not need a nanny or policy goal to tell us how to behave.

Vague and ambiguous rules 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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