Raise Your Right Hand And Swear To Be Civil: Defining Civility As An Obligation Of Professional Responsibility

Donald E. Campbell, Raise Your Right Hand And Swear To Be Civil: Defining Civility As An Obligation Of Professional Responsibility, 47 Gonz. L. Rev. 99 (Dec. 2011)
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Professor Campbell distinguishes ethics, professionalism, and civility as follows: “Ethics addresses minimal obligations placed on lawyers under rules of professional conduct. Professionalism is identified as a lawyer’s obligations to society as a whole, apart from a lawyer’s obligations to her client. Civility is identified as those obligations that lawyers owe to other lawyers, their clients, and the court generally.” Ethical standards impose duties on lawyers that if not followed can lead to sanctions or disbarment, and professional standards provide guidelines to assist lawyers in serving the public good and the profession itself. Civility standards, on the other hand, are meant to provide guidelines on how lawyers ought to conduct themselves in relation to the parties involved, to “ensure that the image of the legal process is preserved and respected by the public, and to ensure that disputes are resolved in a timely, efficient, and cooperative manner.”

He summarizes the historical evolution of ethics, Rules of Professional Conduct, and initiatives designed to foster civility.  

Discussing the prevalence of incivility, Professor Campbell cites a 2007 Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism survey of 1079 lawyers that found:

  • 95% experienced or witnessed unprofessional behavior throughout their careers.
  • 79% experienced rudeness or strategic incivility within the last month.
  • 72% categorized incivility as a serious or moderately serious problem in the profession.

Professor Campbell notes that 32 state bar associations have adopted civility codes of conduct with the following common precepts:

  • recognize the importance of keeping commitments and of seeking agreement and accommodation with regard to scheduling and extensions;
  • be respectful and act in a courteous, cordial, and civil manner;
  • be prompt, punctual, and prepared;
  • maintain honesty and personal integrity;
  • communicate with opposing counsel;
  • avoid actions taken merely to delay or harass;
  • ensure proper conduct before the court;
  • act with dignity and cooperation in pre-trial proceedings;
  • act as a role model to the client and public and as a mentor to young lawyers; and
  • utilize the court system in an efficient and fair manner.