Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2007

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To promote civility in Maryland’s legal community, the Court of Appeals of Maryland is now considering judicial reforms that create explicit standards of professionalism and impose sanctions on attorneys who repeatedly violate them. These are several of the revisions proposed in the recently released “Maryland Judicial Commission Revised Final Report and Recommendations on Professionalism,” submitted to the Court of Appeals of Maryland on May 30, 2007. This report is the culmination of a comprehensive, four-year probe of legal professionalism in Maryland.

The final package of proposed reforms encompasses everything from new standards, attorney sanctions and enhanced mentoring opportunities for new lawyers to measures addressing discovery abuse and the unauthorized practice of law. Through these reforms, the Maryland Judicial Commission (MJC) seeks to create a higher awareness of professionalism within the legal community. The complete revised report may be found at www.courts.state.md.us/professionalism/pdfs/finalreportrevised.pdf.

Proposed Reforms  

First, MJC proposes that very specific “Standards of Professionalism” be adopted as an Appendix to the Rules of Professional Conduct and further recommends that sanctions be imposed on lawyers who violate them. MJC is recommending new Maryland Rule 1-342:  “If the Court finds that the conduct of any counsel violates the Standards of Professionalism, the Court may impose sanctions as the Court deems appropriate including the assessment of monetary civil penalty, a monetary award, or both.”  

Next, MJC tackles discovery abuse through a number of proposed measures including a “uniform discovery protocol designed to ensure that discovery is completed and disputes resolved in a timely fashion.” It also offers ways to enhance mentoring opportunities for new lawyers and modifies MSBA’s new admittees professionalism course to “incorporate and explain the Standards of Professionalism as an integral part of the course.”

Other reforms address improving counseling services for lawyers who demonstrate repeated unprofessional behavior, clarifying the role of judges in the Bar and the community and encouraging legal groups to work as resources to deter the unauthorized practice of law. Finally, MJC recommends its perpetuation with funding derived from an annual assessment imposed on each lawyer admitted to practice in Maryland.

Background

In 2003, the Maryland Judicial Task Force on Professionalism became the Maryland Judicial Commission (MJC), headed by the Honorable Lynne A. Battaglia. MJC’s 36 lawyers and judges, representing all counties in the state, examined numerous facets of professional conduct in Maryland’s legal profession. After a 30-month, comprehensive probe, it recommended numerous procedures and methods to raise professional standards.

Its work was largely completed by eight subcommittees: Standards and Ideals of Professionalism; Professionalism Guidelines and Sanctions for Use by Judges; Discovery Abuse; Mentoring; Update Existing Professionalism Course for New Admittees; Development of a Professionalism Course for Lawyers who Exhibit Unprofessional Behavior; Defining the Unauthorized Practice of Law; and the Judge’s Role in the Bar and in the Community.

The MJC’s final report, The Maryland Judicial Commission Final Report and Recommendations, issued on May 31, 2006, proposed professionalism standards for lawyers and judges in terms of ideals, responsibilities, education, civility, fairness and service, and recommended the issuance of judicial sanctions, including “monetary civil penalties,” for professional misconduct. It also contained a number of other proposals, including its continuation through an annual assessment imposed on every Maryland lawyer to fund it. The site for the complete report follows: www.courts.state.md.us/professionalism/pdfs/finalreport.pdf.

After MJC issued this report, it conducted a series of public hearings in the fall of 2006, gathering attorney input on the proposals. It examined all of the feedback derived from the hearings, then modified its final report, issuing the Maryland Judicial Commission Revised Final Report and Recommendations on Professionalism this past May.

“This final, revised report is the result of a great deal of debate, especially on the role of sanctions in holding people accountable for professionalism,” explains Battaglia. Addressing the Standards, she reports, “At first we dealt with ideals of professionalism, but ideals can’t be subject to sanctions, and we discovered that people did not know what the term professionalism included, so we made the Standards more precise to give people specific language about professional conduct. The report also includes an educational component and a mentoring component to give new attorneys advice on professionalism.”

Battaglia found MSBA’s leadership and members to be “very involved and very helpful” in this initiative. “Lawyer satisfaction is tied to collegiality and community,” she notes, “and this is engendered at MSBA.” Battaglia encourages the Association to continue to send out the message about the importance of professionalism to members of the Bar and continue its role as an advocate of professionalism.

One of MSBA President Alison L. Asti’s top priorities this year is advancing professionalism in Maryland’s legal community. Under her leadership, MSBA will work closely with Battaglia and MJC “in determining how to address the questions raised in the final, revised professionalism report.”

“MSBA can play an important role in improving professional satisfaction with the practice of law in today’s fast-paced world,” reports Asti. “The attention by all of us to the importance of professionalism in our practices, will gradually improve the perception of lawyers by the public.”

The Maryland Judicial Commission Revised Final Report and Recommendations on Professionalism has been filed with the Court of Appeals of Maryland for final action. Battalgia plans to visit local and specialty bar associations this fall to generate awareness about professionalism and these proposals across Maryland’s legal community.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August  2007