Practicing with Professionalism course prepares new attorneys

Issue July 2014 By Mike Vigneux

New attorneys across the state have been heading back to the "classroom" for a required one-day Practicing with Professionalism course within 18 months of being admitted to the bar.

With the implementation of Rule 3:16 by the Supreme Judicial Court's (SJC) Standing Committee on Professionalism, all newly admitted Massachusetts attorneys must attend the course in order to maintain their good standing at the bar. The rule applies to anyone newly licensed to practice law in Massachusetts on or after Sept. 1, 2013.

The Massachusetts Bar Association is the only SJC approved provider to offer the course statewide. Since January 2014, the MBA has partnered with the University of Massachusetts to host the one-day course on UMass campuses in Boston, Worcester and Dartmouth. The course will also be offered at UMass Lowell on Sept. 18 and UMass Amherst on Oct. 27.

On May 22, newly admitted attorneys made their way to UMass Medical School in Worcester for a full day of training and networking. Some general themes of the day included building a good reputation, finding a mentor, making ethical decisions, giving back through pro bono work and the importance of continuing legal education.

MBA Secretary Christopher M. Kenney welcomed the attendees by noting that this course was just the beginning of a flourishing legal career. "Today, you are investing in your own success," said Kenney.

The first session of the day was "Your Reputation is Everything: How Lawyers Should Act," presented by Hon. Edward M. Ginsburg (ret.) and Hon. Paul A. Chernoff (ret.). Ginsburg and Chernoff spoke about how to develop a good reputation and keep it. The former judges noted that an attorney who earns the respect of the judge, the court officers, the clerk and other court personnel will be more successful in the long run.

Ginsburg and Chernoff also addressed the importance of acting professionally both within and outside the courtroom as a lawyer's reputation is never limited to how they conduct themselves in front of a judge.

"The walls have ears. You establish your reputation everywhere you go," said Chernoff.

Also included in the morning portion were sessions on "The Attorney-Client Relationship" and "Ethics for the Practicing Lawyer."

The highlight of the course was keynote speaker Hon. Shannon Frison of the Superior Court, who spoke about hidden bias within the legal profession and strategies to combat it.

Frison noted that hidden bias is prevalent in society today, most commonly in the areas of race, gender and sexual orientation. According to Frison, bias is often unconscious or hidden and can sometimes be based on attributes or assumptions that may not even be true. Bias exists everywhere and is not confined to the legal community.

 "This is really a conversation to be had by our larger society, not just in the law," Frison told the new attorneys. "We're all subject to it. It doesn't matter what your race or gender is."

By using the current example of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who has been accused of making racially discriminatory comments, Frison remarked that the media attention in that situation has made bias "not so hidden anymore." However, most cases of everyday bias don't play out on a national stage.

Being an attorney means interacting with many people both inside and outside of the legal community. Therefore, Frison encouraged course attendees to be mindful, focus on inclusion instead of exclusion and to "view the person as a whole person" without making assumptions.

"Keep the discussion on the table," said Frison. "Don't be afraid to discuss these issues as they come up."

After Frison's presentation the afternoon sessions covered topics such as navigating social media, time management, and introductions to law office management, managing client fund accounts and trust account recordkeeping, the bar disciplinary system, the Massachusetts court system and bar associations.

The Practicing with Professionalism course registration fee includes breakfast, lunch, a cocktail reception and opportunities to network and learn about pro bono projects in the legal services community. All necessary record keeping and attendance reports to the Board of Bar Overseers are handled by the MBA and course attendees enjoy complimentary MBA membership which allows new attorneys to take advantage of valuable resources and programs.

"This course covered everything I set out to learn," acknowledged a new attorney on a course evaluation form.

For more information on the Practicing with Professionalism course, including dates, locations and frequently asked questions, visit