Ethics & The Law: The Ethics of Incivility

Barrie Althoff, Ethics & The Law: The Ethics of Incivility, Wash. Bar News (July 1999).


Former WSBA Chief Disciplinary Counsel, Mr. Barrie Althoff states that “civility and professionalism relate to the basic level of trust and respect accorded by one person to another, of the level of confidence a lawyer or a judge can have in the word of another lawyer or a judge. Civility and professionalism form a framework for common expectations of mutual trust, of being treated with dignity, and ultimately set the stage for justice to be done.” After reviewing concerns over incivility in the profession and its causes, including some clients’ expectations of uncivil behavior, he discusses Rules of Professional Conduct that relate to civility. Mr. Althoff also provides several examples of lawyers’ behavior that resulted in disciplinary action or court sanctions. He concludes with a series of provocative questions including who should set standards of behavior, who should police and regulate said behavior, and whether such codes of conduct are effective ways to ensure justice is done. The legal profession “is a noble profession … because the profession's overriding goal is to make the promise of justice a reality…. If lawyers truly are guardians of law, then they more than others need to embody in their practices and lives … respect for the dignity of the individual. Lawyers need to treat one another with dignity and respect because the very purpose of law, and thus the very reason for the legal profession's existence, is to attain respect and protection for the dignity of the individual. Modeling civility and professionalism is an important way for each lawyer and judge to express gratitude to other legal professionals, to honor the innate dignity of one another, and to celebrate the cacophony of justice that is attained through the legal process.”

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