first_img December 15, 2007 Jan Pudlow Senior Editor Regular News Professionalism’s new focus: Change lawyers’ bad behavior Professionalism’s new focus: Change lawyers’ bad behavior Senior Editor A lawyer refused to accept a check for satisfaction of judgment from another lawyer because it was 23 cents short — even after the lawyer reached into his pocket for a quarter to settle up.During a trial, a lawyer angrily talked back to the judge, referring to him as “Judge Glare.”In a deposition, a lawyer claimed she couldn’t find a relevant document in her briefcase, even though it was there among her papers.All three Florida lawyers were suspended from practicing law—a harsher consequence than in the past, Justice Raoul Cantero said. He brought those examples of recent Florida Supreme Court opinions to the Fall Retreat of the Commission on Professionalism and Standing Committee on Professionalism meeting November 30 in Tallahassee.It was a clarion call that change is afoot in efforts to instill professionalism in Florida’s lawyers — not only at the high court, but at The Florida Bar’s Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism and the mission of the commission. Justices are “finding unethical behavior that maybe 10 years ago wouldn’t have been prosecuted or maybe wouldn’t have been considered unethical,” said Cantero, chair of the commission.“All of these things I think are offensive that previously would not have been suspendable conduct — and now are.“Now the onus is on you and other members of the Bar to advertise decisions like that so lawyers know this is no longer aspirational. This is something we expect from lawyers, and when they don’t meet those standards, we are going to suspend them. We are not just going to admonish them anymore. We need to be aware of those decisions and make others aware of those decisions. Because if they don’t know about them, they can’t change their behavior accordingly.”How best to change lawyers’ offensive behavior — not just talk about it — was the challenge discussed at the professionalism retreat. After much debate about carefully wording a motion by First District Court of Appeal Judge William VanNortwick, the commission’s vote was unanimous to:• Approve a change of focus for the Bar’s professionalism center and seminars — away from preaching to the choir and giving feel-good awards and toward getting to the causes of bad behavior so that change can actually occur to correct the bad behavior.• Embrace new goals that will bring the greatest impact on improving unprofessional behavior — at law schools, bench, and Bar, implementing goals decided at the 2006-07 retreats.• While not adopting a specific program, the Bar’s professionalism center was authorized to seek a $125,000 planning grant from The Florida Bar Foundation, using information and justification detailed in a blueprint for change called “The Way Ahead.” (see sidebar, page 7)“We want this commission to be not a commission that talks a lot, but accomplishes a lot,” Cantero said. “The general feeling is that in order to do that we really need to see where we are, and we need to go in a different direction.”Eleven years after the commission was established, Cantero asked: “Have we accomplished enough? Are we satisfied? Or do we think we really need to put it into the next gear? Or even get a different car and really start going at a faster speed if we want to change the legal profession. I think that is what we are talking about now.”Toward that end, at the Spring Retreat 2007, the commission established a blue-ribbon committee — comprised of a former ABA president, former Bar president, former Supreme Court justices, and other Bar leaders and experienced lawyers — to study whether every newly admitted attorney in Florida should be required to be mentored for the first year of practice.Michael Josephs, a Miami lawyer chairing the Joint Committee on Mentoring that met for the first time September 7, said about eight years ago when he and former Board of Governors member Ross Goodman first proposed mandatory mentoring, “I don’t think we finished the first sentence of our presentation and we were blown out of the room. There is good news and there is bad news in the fact that we are talking about it again today.“The bad news, first, is we still need significant change with the way we deal with young lawyers coming into the profession. The good news is that we are doing it.”He added the “one tiny component” he forgot eight years ago was that proof was needed. And that’s what his committee is working on now, doing the research.“This program can’t be everything for everybody. I think where we are on the committee is focusing on those who need it most, and those who need it most are probably the young lawyers going out to practice by themselves. Probably the early focus of the program has to reach those people because they are the ones most at risk. They don’t have someone to turn to. We can give them that opportunity. They need to have that opportunity, because if you read all the studies, there is a tremendous failing in what is going on right now,” Josephs said.“If you think about it, more care is taken in the grooming of a quarterback of a professional football team than we take in putting a law student out in the practice of law. We never turn a rookie loose in the middle of a game — unless tragedy strikes the team — and all it is is a game. What lawyers deal with on a day-to-day basis are life-changing events. I think we owe more to those young lawyers than we are giving them.”Josephs said mentoring is not the sole answer to the problem, but “a piece of the armor that we need.” He said the committee will present final conclusions of their research at the Spring Retreat on March 10 and 11.John Berry, director of the Bar’s Legal Division, summarized the November 29 discussions of the first day of the Fall Retreat: “No. 1, there was almost unanimous feeling that a change of direction is needed. We had a great start with seminars and awards and gathering the choir together. We’ve been doing that for 10 years. But quite frankly, I think it’s almost judicial notice that our profession still is in deep trouble with regard to professionalism.“Polls show that. Not only from the public, but every poll we do as lawyers. We haven’t made the progress we have wanted to make. The change of direction needs to be a new focus to change behavior. We are talking about actually changing human behavior. Not just educating them. Not just knowing what you are supposed to do, but actually getting it done.”Some in the group thought that goal sounded too abstract.Carl Zahner, director of the Bar’s Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism, said: “You have to find the behavior you want to get rid of.. . . What you can measure are the results of those behaviors. Look at the data on lawyers. They are incredibly depressed. They are clinically depressed at enormous rates. They kill themselves at twice the rate of the rest of the population.“Not every lawyer does jerky-type things. They have their own unique way of causing trouble. They all result in depression, a sense of lack of control, and outbursts that come in interpersonal relations they have with other lawyers.”Irwin Gilbert, a litigator in Palm Beach Gardens who serves on a grievance committee, said, “Civility, as a personality trait, cannot be imposed by any panel or any judge — but there are consequences for not acting in accordance with standards that are set.“Raise the bar, insist on more, and there should be consequences. This is the radical suggestion I am going to make today: Judges should be allowed to remove counsel and require their clients to hire new lawyers if the conduct of that lawyer is prejudicial to the administration of justice,” Gilbert said.“If you want to fight sin, you need to walk among the sinners. The truth is, I am far, far, far from perfect. You need to drag by the collar some of the worst actors. We know them. We deal with them. We should be dragging them into this committee. Maybe an intervention. The point is, we need to find out from them why they behave like they do. We need to find out from them what it’s going to take to stop them.”Justice Cantero got a big laugh when he retorted: “That would make for an interesting retreat.”last_img