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A new approach to civility

President, State Bar of California

James O. Heiting

At times I get so tired of dealing with needlessly antagonistic lawyers in litigation. It is widely recognized, as you are certainly aware, that civility among lawyers, promotion of justice and respect for each other and the law as an institution has been eroding. In response, with the help of the Inns of Court, State Bar, ABA, other organizations, judges and private and public lawyers, I have put together a proposal for a "School of Ethics in Advocacy" (EIA). It is intended as an aid to rekindle the sparks of our heritage, our honor and our self-respect. The Judicial Council is currently considering implementation of the EIA.

The course will be a four-hour commitment, likely on a weekend morning. Its goal is to promote justice and common (public) good through an ethical practice with competence, civility, service to the public and self-regulation.

The primary objectives of the course are to instill renewed (or in some cases new) ideals of professionalism and civility, with the ultimate goal of promoting civility and professionalism between attorneys and between attorneys and the courts, and with an eye to reducing bickering, requests for sanctions and the need to ask the court for assistance to resolve attorney-caused conflicts. Ultimately, the costs of litigation and the costs to the courts of needless disputes can be reduced.

EIA will focus on six elements: ethics and integrity (high moral ground/responsibility), independence (in advice, thinking, counseling within the law), legal education, civility (an attitude and a practice), competency and professionalism.

Renewing the image of lawyer as problem solver is a hoped-for result, as well as a renewed desire to achieve greater expertise in the law, pursue our learned profession in public service, promote justice and serve the common good.

Monetary sanctions are effective at times in promoting or dissuading certain actions, but they don't always adequately address the issues or sufficiently affect behavior and attitudes. The EIA can help. To be ordered to attend the EIA as part of, or in lieu of some sanction, would require time, effort and more than simply writing a check. A person ordered to attend will be exposed to solutions and practices that have proven successful.

The responsibility to conduct the school would probably fall on the local bar association. The cost of attendance and paperwork would be paid by the attendee, and the bar association would provide proof of attendance so the court would not be involved any further than it already is with sanctions.

The course provides a study of the history and significance of the profession of law. The importance of lawyers' ethical and moral duties, and responsibilities to clients, the courts, self, the bar and the community will be discussed. Relevant manuals and references will be included. Instruction will be provided by qualified leaders in the legal field, judicial officers, the American Inns of Court and guest lecturers of recognized prominence.

Course topics will include: the history of law as a profession; law as a calling; lawyers as problem solvers rather than problem creators; how to develop deliberate and sound arguments that demonstrate practical wisdom and moderation; contributing to society; promoting the public trust; honesty and integrity as inherent to the practice of law; and our roles as counselors, negotiators and peacemakers.

Assuming adequate participation, attendees will receive a certificate of completion, suitable for hanging, the court will be notified (if applicable) and MCLE credit will be issued for the topics covered. Ethics credit is automatic and credit for law office management, bias and/or substance abuse is possible.

Ours is a noble profession and we must differentiate between what we can do and what we should do. It is a profession that stands on principles of honesty, integrity, public service, dispute resolution, problem solving, counseling, negotiating, peace making. But some of us have forgotten this — or we never learned it. I hope the EIA is a concept that can serve in some small way to educate those of us who need to be educated, and to remind those of us who need to be reminded.

Let's go out and do some good.

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