By: Linda Pisani, Esq. Partner/Attorney Riggins Pisani, PA
Long before I sought out to become a lawyer, I heard that the practice of law was an honorable profession. Like most things, there are always exceptions. As lawyers we strive in our practice to convince the judge, the lawmakers and other governing bodies to not allow an exception to swallow a rule. But somehow, we as lawyers have allowed the exception of ruthless lawyers to gulp up and choke down the rule that lawyers are honorable.
On September 12, 2011, the Supreme Court of Florida, recognizing the “incivility among members of the legal profession” added the following proviso to our Oath of Admission:
To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications: This is a celebrated step in instructing the past two years of new lawyers that”fairness, integrity and civility” are expected in their practice of law. However, lawyers who currently stand in the place of mentors, counselors and teachers of these new lawyers have decades of successful legal practice where “fairness, integrity and civility” has little to no place in their practice. Many lawyers have first-hand experience of opposing counsel winning an argument without fairness, getting the upper hand in negotiations without integrity, or generally intimidating an opponent to advance a client’s position without any civility at all. The lawyers who have done this know who they are. And even if they do not realize they are part of the problem, the rest of us do.
But this is not a forum for showcasing unprofessional and unscrupulous lawyers and their bad deeds. Truly, these lawyers get enough attention. I, for one, deal with these types of lawyers weekly, if not daily, in my practice and find it exhausting and infuriating. Instead, the purpose of this forum is to focus on the new exception – the attorney who is fair – the
attorney with integrity – the attorney who is civil.
A great example of such an attorney went viral about a year ago. While not a Florida attorney, much can be learned from Christy Susman from Louisville, Kentucky and her incredibly civil “cease and desist” letter on behalf of Jack Daniels. The act of sending a polite letter, while not
monumental in the greater scheme of things, drives home the point that even a small thing can have a significant impact on the perception of a lawyer. The ABA article showcasing Ms. Susman’s letter is as follows: CEASE& DESIST LETTER
So there it is. . .I am on the lookout for those attorneys that we all should strive to be like and from whom we should learn how to be better lawyers. I am on the lookout for positive and inspirational attorneys who are responsible for kind letters, respectful tutelage, authentic collaboration, honesty and professionalism.