Attorneys are often retained to represent their clients in disputes or transactions. The practice of law is often an adversarial process. Attorneys are ethically bound to zealously represent and advocate in their clients’ best interests. Nonetheless, certain standards of professional courtesy exist that must be observed in the courtroom, the board room, or any other setting in which an attorney is present.
The following standards of professional courtesy describe the conduct expected of attorneys practicing before state and federal courts and other tribunals in Palm Beach County as well as in South Florida, including those in Broward, Indian River, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee and St. Lucie Counties. These standards are not meant to be exhaustive, but instead to set a tone or guide for conduct not specifically covered by these standards. The overriding principles promoted by these standards are good-faith, civil and respectful communication between counsel and similar cooperation with the judges, arbitrators, mediators, clerks, court staff, witnesses and non-parties.
These standards have been codified with the intent that their dissemination will educate and remind attorneys and their clients that attorneys practicing in Palm Beach County as well as in South Florida are expected to behave professionally and civilly at all times. They have received the approval of the Board of Directors of the Palm Beach County Bar Association. They have also been endorsed by the judges of the 15th Judicial Circuit, who expect professional conduct by all attorneys who appear and practice before them.
In 1990, the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar adopted the Ideals and Goals of Professionalism. In 2011, the Florida Supreme Court amended its oath of attorney admission (“Oath of Attorney Admission”) to require that attorneys taking the oath pledge to opposing parties and counsel “fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.” In 2013, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion entitled In re: Code for Resolving Professionalism Complaints (SC13-688) that requires each judicial circuit in Florida to create a local professionalism panel to hear grievances for professionalism and civility violations. These standards below should be read together with the Ideals and Goals of Professionalism, the Oath of Attorney Admission, and the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion aimed at improving attorneys’ professionalism and civility.
1. Attorneys should endeavor to provide opposing counsel and pro se litigants (collectively, “opposing counsel”), parties, witnesses, and other affected persons, sufficient notice of depositions, hearings and other proceedings, except upon agreement of counsel, in an emergency, or in other circumstances compelling more expedited scheduling. As a general rule, actual notice should be given that is no less than five (5) business days for in-state depositions, ten (10) business days for out-of-state depositions and five (5) business days for hearings.
2. Attorneys should communicate with opposing counsel prior to scheduling depositions, hearings and other proceedings, so as to schedule them at times that are mutually convenient for all interested persons. Further, sufficient time should be reserved to permit a complete presentation by counsel for all parties. Upon receiving an inquiry concerning a proposed time for a hearing, deposition, meeting or other proceeding, a lawyer should promptly agree to the proposal or offer a counter suggestion that is as close in time as is reasonably available, and attorneys should cooperate with each other when conflicts and calendar changes are reasonably necessary. Only after making a reasonable effort to confer with opposing counsel should attorneys unilaterally schedule depositions, hearings or other matters.
3. Attorneys should notify opposing counsel, the court or other tribunal, and others affected, of scheduling conflicts as soon as they become apparent. Further, attorneys should cooperate with one another regarding all reasonable rescheduling requests that do not prejudice their clients or unduly delay a proceeding and promptly offer reasonable alternative dates to reschedule a matter.
4. Attorneys should promptly notify the court or other tribunal of any resolution between parties that renders a scheduled court appearance unnecessary or otherwise moot.
5. Attorneys should grant reasonable requests by opposing counsel for extensions of time within which to respond to pleadings, discovery and other matters when such an extension will not prejudice their client or unduly delay a proceeding.
6. Attorneys should cooperate with opposing counsel during trials and evidentiary hearings by disclosing with reasonable advance notice the identities of all witnesses reasonably expected to be called and the length of time needed to present the attorney’s client’s case, except when a client’s material rights would be adversely affected. The attorneys also should cooperate with the calling of witnesses out of turn when the circumstances justify it.
1. Attorneys should pursue discovery requests that are reasonably related to the matter at issue. Attorneys should not use discovery for the purpose of harassing, embarrassing or causing the adversary to incur unnecessary expenses.
2. Attorneys should not use discovery for the purpose of causing undue delay or obtaining unfair advantage.
3. Attorneys should ensure that responses to reasonable discovery requests are timely, organized, complete and consistent with the obvious intent of the request. Attorneys should not produce documents in a way calculated to hide or obscure the existence of documents. A response to a request to produce should refer to each of the items in the request and the responsive documents should be produced as they correspond to each request or as they are kept in the usual course of business.
III. Conduct Directed to Opposing Counsel, the Court/Tribunal and Other Participants in the Proceedings
1. As it brings dishonor to the legal profession, attorneys should refrain from criticizing or denigrating opposing counsel, the court/tribunal and their staff, the parties, and witnesses before clients, the public, and the media.
2. Attorneys should be, and should impress upon their clients and witnesses the need to be, courteous and respectful and not rude or disruptive with the court/tribunal, opposing counsel, parties and witnesses.
3. Attorneys should make an effort to explain to witnesses the purpose of their required attendance at depositions, hearings or trials. Absent compelling circumstances, attorneys should give adequate notice to non-party witnesses before the scheduling of their depositions, advance notice of a subpoena for a deposition, hearing or trial. Attorneys further should attempt to accommodate the schedules of witnesses when resetting their appearance and promptly notify them of any cancellations.
4. Attorneys should respect and abide by the spirit and letter of all rulings of the court and advise their clients to do the same.
5. Attorneys and their staff should a) act and speak civilly and respectfully to courtroom deputies and bailiffs, clerks, court reporters, judicial assistants and law clerks; b) be selective in inquiries posed to judicial assistants as their time and resources are limited; and c) familiarize themselves with the court’s administrative orders, local rules and each judge’s published standing orders, practices and procedures.
IV. Candor to the Court/Tribunal and Opposing Counsel
1. Attorneys should not knowingly misstate, misrepresent, or distort any fact or legal authority to the court, tribunal or opposing counsel and shall not mislead by inaction or silence. Further, if this occurs unintentionally and is later discovered, the attorney immediately should disclose and correct the error. Attorneys, likewise, should affirmatively notify the court or tribunal of controlling legal authority that is contrary to their client’s legal position.
2. Attorneys immediately should notify opposing counsel of all oral or written communications with the court or other tribunal, except those involving only scheduling or administrative matters.
3. Copies of any submissions to the court or other tribunal (such as e-mails, correspondence, motions, pleadings, memoranda of law, legal authorities, exhibits, transcripts, etc.), should be simultaneously provided to opposing counsel by e-mail or delivery of an electronic or hard copy. For example, if a memorandum of law is hand-delivered to the court, a copy should be simultaneously e-mailed or hand-delivered to opposing counsel.
4. Attorneys should submit factual or legal argument to a court in a motion or memorandum of law and not in the form of an e-mail or letter. Tribunals other than courts, however, may permit more informal means than a motion or memorandum of law for the submission of factual or legal argument.
5. Attorneys should draft proposed orders promptly after a hearing or decision and the orders should fairly and adequately represent the ruling of the court or tribunal. Attorneys should promptly provide, either orally or in writing, proposed orders to opposing counsel for approval. In response, opposing counsel should communicate promptly any objections to the drafting attorney. The drafting attorney then should promptly submit a copy of the proposed order to the court or other tribunal and state whether opposing counsel agrees or objects to the form of the order.
6. Attorneys should draft agreements and other documents promptly after the discussions or agreement so as to fairly reflect the true intent of the parties. Where revisions are made to an agreement or other document, attorneys should point out, redline or otherwise highlight any such additions, deletions or modifications for opposing counsel.
V. Efficient Administration
1. Attorneys should refrain from actions intended primarily to harass or embarrass and should refrain from actions which cause unnecessary expense or delay.
2. Attorneys should, whenever possible, prior to filing or upon receiving a motion, contact opposing counsel to determine if the matter can be resolved in whole or in part. This may alleviate the need for filing the motion or allow submission of an agreed order in lieu of a hearing.
3. Attorneys should, whenever appropriate, discuss discovery planning. Attorneys should also endeavor to stipulate to all facts and legal authority not reasonably in dispute.
4. Attorneys should encourage principled negotiations and efficient resolution of disputes on their merits.
Approved by the Board of Directors of the Palm Beach County Bar Association, May, 2014
/s/ Jill G. Weiss, President
Endorsed by the Judges of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, June 2014
/s/ Jeffrey Colbath, Chief Judge