Last month, nearly 1,000 attorneys completed MSBA’s
Professionalism Course and were sworn-in to practice law by the Court of Appeals
of Maryland and welcomed as the newest members of MSBA. On December 10-11,
MSBA’s volunteer faculty of 60 judges and attorneys presented the day-long
professionalism program to the new attorneys at the Baltimore Convention Center.
With this latest class, over 20,000 of Maryland’s 33,000 attorneys have
now participated in MSBA’s professionalism course.
Yet attorney incivility continues to plague Maryland’s
legal community. Thus, professionalism remains a top concern of the Bar and
Bench. While MSBA and the Court have made strides in addressing attorney civility
through professionalism programs, civility codes, mentoring and other initiatives
in the last 15 years, unprofessional attorney behavior is still a major problem
in the contemporary practice of law.
When this issue first surfaced in the late ’80s, MSBA
conducted a comprehensive lawyer satisfaction study, then convened a professionalism
conference to delve into the findings. Pursuing one of the conference’s
top recommendations, MSBA designed a course to acquaint new attorneys with
ethical and civility issues at the beginning of their legal careers. At MSBA’s
urging, the Court of Appeals mandated this course for all new Maryland attorneys
The Bar and the Bench hoped this would alleviate the alarming
rate of lawyer dissatisfaction and growing lack of professionalism cited in
the study and subsequent conference. However, attorney incivility not only
continued, it grew worse. The Bar and the Bench then scrutinized the behavior
of more seasoned attorneys, finding them to be part of the problem, and determined
that a professionalism course would benefit the entire Bar.
Therefore, MSBA asked the Court to consider requiring a professionalism
and ethics course for all experienced attorneys. In early 2002, the Court created
the Maryland Judicial Task Force on Professionalism to examine this proposal
as well as attorney civility in general. The task force conducted a series
of 22 town hall meetings across the state and found Maryland lawyers were troubled
about the uncivil environment in their local legal communities. After an 18-month
probe, it recommended the creation of a court commission to oversee civility
in today’s practice of law.
Court Professional Commission Tackles Civility
Last January, the Court of Appeals of Maryland established
a 36 member Professionalism Commission, headed by the Honorable Lynne A. Battaglia,
to promote professionalism as an important core value in Maryland’s litigation
process and its institutions. Its goals are to examine the task force’s
recommendations, advance professionalism through various new initiatives and
address lawyers’ concerns about declining professionalism. The Commission’s
focus includes attorney mentoring, professionalism guidelines and standards,
attorney sanctions and discovery disputes.
“The Commission will integrate attorneys and judges
into Maryland’s professionalism movement to ensure the highest degree
of professionalism in this state’s legal community, inside and outside
of the courtroom,” reports Battaglia.
“Its efforts should enhance professionalism and emphasize the importance
‘community’ among judges and lawyers in Maryland.”
The bulk of Battaglia’s Commission is being handled
through eight subcommittees: Judges’ Role in the Bar and with Communities;
Standards of Professional Conduct including Identifying Indicia of Professionalism;
Professionalism Guidelines and Sanctions for Use by Judges; Discovery Abuse
Issues Including Appointment of Discovery Masters; Development of a Professionalism
Course for Lawyers who Exhibit Unprofessional Behavior; Update Existing Professionalism
Course for New Admittees; Defining Unauthorized Practice of Law; and Mentoring.
The subcommittees have devoted the last year to examining
and researching their issue and are now beginning to report back to the full
Commission. Every month for the next eight months, one subcommittee will offer
its findings to the Commission for consideration. The Commission is considering
the Standards of Professional Conduct this month, discovery will follow in
February, then, respectively, the judge’s role, the professionalism course
for unprofessional behavior, the new admits professionalism course and mentoring.
“This is like drafting the Declaration of Independence,” declares
“The reports are generating a great deal of debate and engaging everyone.” After
all reports are submitted, reviewed and examined for consistency, a final report
will be drafted. “We need to decide what to recommend to the Court of
Appeals and what role the Commission will play in the future,” she adds.
Ultimately, the Commission is expected to develop professional
guidelines and sanctions for adoption by the judiciary, reflecting the expectations
that lawyers will behave appropriately in the litigation of both criminal and
civil actions and in non-litigation contexts.
To date, Battaglia is pleased with the Commission’s
progress and the visibility it gives professionalism. “I think we have
raised the consciousness of the existence, or lack thereof, of professionalism,” she
notes. “People are much more aware of it now and are discussing it.” She
is hopeful a final report will be forthcoming later this year.