The proposed mandatory continuing legal education requirements for Maryland includes two hours per year “devoted to topics concerning professionalism.” As someone in the CLE business (I help to organize seminars for the Maryland Association for Justice), that requirement caught my eye.
Not much is said about professionalism in the rest of the proposal, except that professionalism hours would not carry over from year to year. For a detailed explanation of Maryland’s view on professionalism, we can go straight to a statement crafted by the Maryland Courts, “Ideals of Professionalism.”
The entire document is written as a series of aspirations: “A lawyer should aspire,” “A lawyer should understand,” A lawyer should,” and so on. Violations are not subject to discipline, and in this way the ideals are more of a knightly code of honor than any sort of rulebook.
The Ideals encompass good aspirations, and I doubt anyone could find fault in them. We should be loyal to clients, show respect for participants in the dispute resolution process, avoid discrimination, improve the law, be punctual, keep commitments, be honest, stay educated, mentor other lawyers, communicate with clients, act fairly and “know that zeal requires only that the client’s interests are paramount and therefore warrant use of negotiation and compromise, when appropriate, to achieve a beneficial outcome, understanding that yelling, intimidating, issuing ultimatums, and using an ‘all or nothing’ approach may constitute bullying, not zealous advocacy.”
I have to be honest, here. When I took the required professionalism course upon passing the bar, I thought it was a colossal waste of time. I respect everything that Judge Bell and the other judges and lawyers did to put together that course, but everything we talked about was so…elementary. And, I don’t mean elementary in just the sense of the word “basic,” but I mean “stuff I was taught in elementary school.” Share with others. Don’t yell. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Sure, we covered some more technical professionalism issues, but they were really ethical issues with professionalism overtones.
Other states I’m barred in have CLE professionalism requirements, and they are always the exact same course. A judge and a lawyer team up to tell you how to play in the sandbox. I think the problem is that we all know how to play in the sandbox. Some people regularly play the way they should, and some people (we all have our short list of offenders) regularly violate the Rules of the Sandbox.
So the question is: has professionalism training ever reformed a Sandbox Rule violator? Particularly when there are no technical consequences (remember—there is no discipline for violating these aspirational ideals), it seems unlikely that a course would have any impact.
I’m no psychologist, but it seems to me that the best way to change behavior is through consequences. We confront the violators. We make their lives harder because we never trust anything they say, and we require everything in writing. Sometimes, unfortunately, we stop granting “favors” because they just use them to take advantage of us, and they never grant favors back. But, I’ve never seen a violator reform their ways. They just keep digging their heels in the mire.
So, I have no real solution to the problem of professionalism. The Ideals are good to keep in your back pocket. I take them with me to depositions, and I’m just waiting for the opportunity to pull them out when an overzealous attorney starts yelling. I hope I never need to use them.