What is professionalism? The Florida Bar defines it as “the pursuit and practice of the highest ideals and tenets of the legal profession. It embraces far more than simply complying with the minimal standards of professional conduct. The essential ingredients of professionalism are character, competence, civility, and commitment.” When this definition is posed to my non-attorney friends as the standard for attorneys, I usually get a chuckle or a response to the effect of, “Yeah, right.” The common stereotype of the unprofessional attorney is plastered all over popular media and is a label that our profession has been stigmatized with since before Shakespeare. In response, the Florida Supreme Court created a commission, the Florida Bar has a standing committee, and the Ninth Judicial Circuit has a panel, all of which deal with professionalism. The Florida Bar’s Center for Professionalism website disseminates information on professionalism through an oath, expectations, a creed, ideals and goals, guidelines, rules, and a handbook. Why hasn’t this been enough to improve the public perception of our profession?
Professionalism does not occur by accident; instead it is a determined effort by all within our profession to hold each other to the standards we have all sworn to keep. Yet we have collectively allowed this stereotype to thrive because we do not hold each other accountable and only report the most egregious of offenses to the Florida Bar. Why don’t we? The common answer is that the transgression is not worth having someone lose their bar card and livelihood. What if the stakes were not that high? What if a panel of attorneys could deal with your incident and help your fellow attorney get back on the right path?
Early miners brought canaries down to the coal mines to warn them of dangerous gases because the mines did not have ventilation systems. The Ninth Judicial Circuit Professionalism Panel was created to be the canary in the coal mine that is our profession. If you have an incident in which you think your fellow attorney’s behavior warrants a warning but not a formal complaint to the Florida Bar, consider making a referral to this panel. Referrals are made through the Office of the Chief Judge and the form is available on the Ninth Judicial Circuit and the Osceola County Bar websites. You can access the form here. If you would like to know more about the professionalism panel, how to make a referral, or more about professionalism, contact myself or any other member of the professionalism panel.
Robert D. Holborn, II