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Official Magazine of the Denver Bar Association

Promoting Professionalism

Much has been said and written about the perceived decline in professionalism and civility in the practice of law. The Professionalism Working Group of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professional Development and the CBA/DBA Professionalism Coordinating Council (PCC) have joined forces to develop and implement programs aimed at promoting professionalism and civility, as well as to offer suggestions to the bench and the bar for how to deal with unprofessional and uncivil behavior when one encounters it. This article introduces the Professionalism Working Group and the PCC and highlights several of their professionalism initiatives.

The Professionalism Working Group and the PCC

The Chief Justice’s Commission was established by Chief Justice Michael Bender and has been continued, with a new structure and focus, by Chief Justice Nancy Rice. The Commission identifies and addresses gaps in the legal professional development landscape. Members of the bench, the bar, and Colorado’s law schools come together to serve on a number of working groups dedicated to accomplishing this objective. The Professionalism Working Group focuses on matters relating to professionalism and civility.

The PCC is a joint committee of the CBA and DBA. It works to implement the Principles of Professionalism, which were adopted by the CBA Board of Governors, among members of the bar and to improve professional conduct in light of the lawyers’ Oath of Admission and the reasonable expectations of the bench, the bar, and the public.

Defining Professionalism

HandshakeTo promote professionalism, the PCC recognized the need for a shared understanding of what that term means. People tend to know professionalism when they see it (or, more accurately, they tend to know a lack of professionalism when they see it). They do not, however, have a shared conception of the meaning of the term. Thus, the PCC set out to define “professionalism” and recently adopted the following definition:

Professionalism is conduct reflecting the values embodied in the Colorado Attorney Oath of Admission, the Colorado Principles of Professionalism, and the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. These values require attorneys always to act competently, civilly, and with integrity and to commit themselves to the public good and to furthering the interests of justice.

This definition captures what the PCC perceived as the three key elements of professionalism. First, professionalism is a form of conduct. Second, this conduct reflects certain values to which all attorneys have subscribed and that are broader than the attorneys’ ethical obligations. Third, any notion of professionalism encompasses duties owed to the bench, to clients, to other lawyers, and to members of the public generally, including the duty to further the public good and the interests of justice.

Recent Initiatives on Professionalism

The Professionalism Working Group and the PCC have developed and implemented a number of initiatives to promote professionalism and civility in the practice of law, and their work is ongoing. Several recent and pending initiatives are worth highlighting:

  • Professionalism Month and the Assembly of Lawyers—Over the last several years, the Professionalism Working Group and the PCC have taken the lead in implementing the proclamation by the Chief Justice, the CBA president, and the deans of Colorado’s law schools declaring October Legal Professionalism Month in Colorado. Working with local and specialty bars and Inns of Court statewide, the Professionalism Working Group and the PCC have developed and presented programs addressing significant issues relating to professionalism. In 2013, the theme of Professionalism Month was “Diversity and Inclusiveness in the Profession.” In 2014, the theme was “On Being Professional: A Statewide Conversation for the 21st Century.” And the proposed theme for 2015 is “Why Professionalism Matters.” As part of these efforts, the Professionalism Working Group and the PCC have sponsored a continuing legal education program called the Assembly of Lawyers. The Assembly has occurred just prior to the October swearing-in of Colorado’s newest attorneys. Its principal purposes have been to bring the members of the bench and bar together to promote professionalism, to welcome to the profession the new admittees, and to convey to those new attorneys a sense that they are not merely receiving a ticket to practice law but also are joining a noble and venerated profession.
  • Judicial Conference Presentation—In 2014, the Professionalism Working Group and the PCC developed and presented a roundtable discussion at the Annual State Judicial Conference aimed at encouraging judges to take action to address unprofessional and uncivil behavior in their courtrooms. The roundtable brought together a renowned behavioralist and representatives of Colorado’s Judicial Discipline Commission, Judicial Performance Commission, the bench and the bar, and the Peer Professionalism Assistance Group. The discussion focused on perceived barriers to judicial action to combat unprofessional and uncivil behavior in the courtroom and provided some suggested tools and techniques that judges could use when confronted with such behavior.
  • Professionalism Vignettes—In 2007, the PCC created an award-winning DVD comprised of twenty-one teaching vignettes relating to professionalism. The vignettes are short videos showing lawyers and judges behaving improperly and were designed to foster discussion concerning how to avoid such behavior before it occurs and how to address it when it does. The vignettes have been presented hundreds of times throughout Colorado (and in some other states) and have been enthusiastically received. Responding to calls for vignettes more specifically tailored to government and transactional lawyers and judges, the PCC, working with CLE of Colorado’s superb video production team, has recently completed a substantial effort to develop and film a new set of vignettes for those lawyers and judges. The new vignettes will be released in the near future.
  • Articles—The Professionalism Working Group and the PCC are in the process of writing a series of articles relating to professionalism and civility. One article will address the recently adopted definition of professionalism. Another will describe the lessons learned to date in the course of the statewide Professionalism Month presentations. A third will present real-world scenarios relating to professionalism and civility and will provide practical suggestions for dealing with such issues.
  • Professionalism Road Show—Finally, the Professionalism Working Group and the PCC are in the process of developing a “Professionalism Road Show,” which will be a portable and flexible series of programs on issues relating to professionalism and civility. The goal of this program is to provide local and specialty bars and Inns of Court ready-made programs on professionalism, to facilitate a continual dialogue about these issues, including a dialogue among the bench and the bar.

Conclusion

Although much remains to be done to promote and foster professionalism and civility in today’s highly competitive legal environment, the members of the Professionalism Working Group and the PCC have been heartened by the many and wonderful instances of professionalism and civility that they have observed in their travels throughout the state. They look forward to their ongoing efforts and to the continued and enthusiastic support that they have received from the bench and the bar. D

GabrielRichard L. Gabriel is a judge on the Colorado Court of Appeals and is a member of the CBA/DBA Joint Professionalism Coordinating Council and current chair of the Professionalism Working Group of the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professional Development.

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