Many staff and some attorneys may not be aware of the California Bar Association's Guidelines of Civility and Professionalism, which were adopted in 2009.
The Guidelines are intended "to protect the public and promote respect and confidence in the legal profession." While they are directed to attorneys, it is good practice for office staff to be mindful of these standas as well.
The Guidelines' goal is to foster a level of civility and professionalism that exceeds the minimum requirements of the mandated California Rules of Professional Conduct. The Guidelines are intended to cover a lawyer's professional dealings with clients, other counsel, third parties, the court and the public.
The California State Bar Professional Rules dictate that an attorney must provide a client with zealous and passionate advocacy. However, this should not be confused with taking an unreasonably aggressive position. All attorneys should have their staff familiarize themselves with the civility guidelines.
The Guidelines serve a practical benefit. For example, the Guidelines direct attorneys to grant opposing counsel reasonably requested extensions of time. As attorney David B. Jonelis observed in a Barristers Tips article for Los Angeles Lawyer1, while denying an extension may make an attorney appear tough to his client, he may actually be causing harm to his client. Life happens and we need to be flexible as the day may come when you may not be able to meet a deadline and need to request an extension of time. The bottom line is that a little common courtesy goes a long way. Some highlights of the Guidelines include:
- The timing and manner of service of papers should not be used to the disadvantage of the party receiving the papers.
- An attorney should treat clients with courtesy and respect, and represent them in a civil and professional manner.
- An attorney should be punctual in appearing at court, depositions, and other scheduled appearances.
- An attorney should advise clients that civility and courtesy in court and meetings are expected as professional conduct.
- An attorney should consider whether, before filing or pursuing a motion, to contact opposing counsel to attempt informally resolve or limit the dispute.
- Any attorney should respect the privacy rights of the parties and non-parties.
- In family law proceedings, an attorney should seek to reduce emotional tension and trauma and encourage the parties and attorneys to interact in a cooperative atmosphere, keeping the best interests of the children in mind.
The Guidelines are available online at http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/Conduct-Discipline/Ethics/Attorney-Civility-and-Professionalism.
Susan Bartman is a member of the San Joaquin County Bar Association's Paralegal Section.
1David B. Jonelis, "Overview of the Guidelines of Civility and Professionalism," Los Angeles Lawyer, April 2015, pg. 10.