The Florida Supreme Court and the legal profession have become increasingly cognizant of the critical importance of professionalism in the practice of law and this article will discuss the critical importance of professionalism for Florida lawyers.
According to the Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism:
Professionalism is 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, commitment, and civility.
Lawyers must be aware that violations of the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar can result in sanctions. The Oath requires lawyers to “maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers.” The Oath also requires lawyers to “pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.” Finally, lawyers must “abstain from all offensive personality and advance no fact prejudicial to the honor or reputation of a party or witness, unless required by the justice of the cause with which I am charged.”
The Preamble to Chapter 4, Rules of Professional Conduct states:
A lawyer, as a member of the legal profession, is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice. ...
... A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs. A lawyer should use the law’s procedures only for legitimate purposes and not to harass or intimidate others. A lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers, and public officials.
The Florida Supreme Court has also addressed lawyer’s violations of ethics and professionalism and imposed sanctions. The Court has placed the legal profession on notice that unprofessional behavior will be sanctioned, and the following cases illustrate that trend.
Florida Bar v. Morgan, 938 So.2d 496 (Fla. 2006) (91-day suspension for misconduct in courtroom during litigation).
Florida Bar v. Abramson, 3 So.3d 964 (Fla. 2009) (91-day suspension for egregious litigation misconduct and repeatedly disrespectful and rude conduct toward trial judge).
Florida Bar v. Price, 632 So.2d 69 (Fla.1994) 91-day suspension for appearing in court under the influence of alcohol and behaving in a hostile, abrasive, and belligerent; reinstatement conditioned on ability to show that satisfactorily completion of an evaluation and course of treatment for substance abuse approved by the Bar.
Florida Bar v. Norkin, 132 So. 3d 77 (Fla. 2014) (2-year suspension and personal court public reprimand for litigation related disparagement of judges, opposing counsel, and others, “appalling and unprofessional behavior”, and “escalating pattern of misbehavior).
“We do not take any pleasure in sanctioning Norkin, but if we are to have an honored and respected profession, we are required to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Norkin has conducted himself in a manner that is the antithesis of what this Court expects from attorneys. By his unprofessional behavior, he has denigrated lawyers in the eyes of the public. Norkin's violations of the Bar rules and unprofessional behavior merit a two-year suspension and a public reprimand. We direct Norkin to appear personally before this Court to receive the public reprimand. His unprofessional conduct is an embarrassment to all members of The Florida Bar.”
Florida Bar v. Norkin, 183 So. 3d 1018 (Fla. 2015) (“Norkin 2”) (permanent disbarment for engaging in practice of law while suspended and egregious misconduct during Bar proceedings related to failure to comply with Order of suspension).
Florida Bar v. Ratiner, No. SC13-539 (Fla. 2018) (“Ratiner 2”) (disbarment for intentional and egregious litigation misconduct lawyer had previous 60-day suspension for deposition misconduct).
Florida Bar v. Green, SC19-1004 (September 30, 2018) (60-day suspension for thefts and misconduct while employed with law firm and social media statements and retaliation after lawyer’s termination from law firm).
Lawyers must understand the critical importance of acting professionally and ethically, particularly in a profession that is self-regulating and highly visible to the public.
Stay safe and healthy and be careful out there.
Joseph A. Corsmeier is a Martindale-Hubbell "AV" rated attorney who practices in Palm Harbor, Florida. His practice consists primarily of the defense of attorneys and all licensed professionals in disciplinary and admission matters, and expert analysis and opinion and court testimony on ethics and liability issues. Mr. Corsmeier is available to provide attorney ethics and professionalism advice, provide expert opinions on ethics and malpractice issues, assist attorneys to ensure compliance with the Florida Bar Rules, and defend applicants before the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.