New guidelines seek return of civility and professionalism

Issue November/December 2016 By Mike Vigneux

"One of the most important responsibilities of all lawyers and judges is to protect and promote the integrity and respectability of the legal profession." These are the opening words of the preamble to the Massachusetts Bar Association's new Civility andProfessionalism Guidelines, which have become the focus of a series of statewide forums aimed at reaffirming the bar's commitment to these important principles.

Created by the Massachusetts Bar Association's Committee on Civility and Professionalism and the judiciary, the new guidelines were first publicly unveiled in Springfield on Aug. 22, at an MBA-hosted forum on civility and professionalism, which featured Superior Court Chief Justice Judith Fabricant.

More recently, members of the bench and bar gathered at the Worcester Courthouse on Oct. 24, to discuss the recently published guidelines at a forum co-sponsored by the MBA and the Worcester County Bar Association. The forum highlighted the collaborative efforts of both attorneys and judges who worked together on the committee to craft a formal document consisting of seven civility guidelines.

The aim and purpose of the guidelines are addressed in the document's preamble:

"Our hope and expectation is that these guidelines will remind practitioners and judges of the respect that our profession demands of one another, and will ensure that we conduct ourselves at all times with the utmost personal courtesy and professionalism. Our hope is also to ensure that the public has confidence in the legal profession and respect for lawyers, and to ensure the honorability of our noble profession remains strong. Finally, it is also to make practicing law more pleasurable."

While civility and professionalism have always been ideals of the legal profession, lifestyle aspects, such as increasing pressures, fewer personal interactions between attorneys in court and daily use of email communication, have made them more challenging to maintain.

"It's something you have to constantly rejuvenate and be mindful of," said MBA President Jeffrey N. Catalano, in reference to the timing of the new guidelines. "It's not just about how to be civil; it's about how to be a true professional."

The forum in Worcester allowed both members of the bench and bar to share their day-to-day experiences and challenges with civility and professionalism, both inside and outside of the courtroom.

"The feedback was tremendous," said Superior Court Justice Beverly J. Cannone, who chaired the committee. "Everybody wants to see this happen and wants to maintain the professionalism of the court."

A common theme to the feedback was the misconception that attorneys need to be overly aggressive in the courtroom environment in order to be successful.

"You don't need to be a pit bull to be a great lawyer," remarked Paul E. White, past chair of the MBA's Complex Commercial Litigation Section.

Now that the guidelines have been published, the next phase of the project is to get the word out to the legal community. According to White, who is managing the outreach efforts, orientation meetings will be conducted at both large and small law firms and would ideally include question and answer sessions with attorneys and judges.

Outreach is also planned for younger attorneys, especially law students at all nine of the state's law schools. The MBA's new Law Student Section Council will conduct outreach efforts to the law schools, according to MBA member Damian J. Turco.

The Committee on Civility and Professionalism was formed as a key initiative of immediate Past President Robert W. Harnais, who noticed an overall lack of civility within the profession. Harnais acknowledged that those in attendance at the Worcester forum are the true advocates of the new guidelines and are vital in communicating the importance of the guidelines to the rest of the legal community.

"We're actually speaking to the choir," said Harnais. "Now we need this choir to go out there and sing our song."

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