By Courtney Tito
Publisher February 2017
A couple of years after graduating from law school, I took a job with an NGO, the Public International Law and Policy Group (“PILPG”), which took me to Baghdad for 7 months. PILPG received a grant to assist the Iraqi government with amending its Constitution and drafting implementing legislation. I arrived in Baghdad in November 2006 shortly after Saddam Hussein had been sentenced to death for his killing of 148 Shiites. I spent the next 7 months meeting with numerous Iraqi parliament members, the judges of the Iraqi Supreme Court and jurists all around the country. I traveled throughout the country as much as our security allowed and had regular appointments with the Iraqi Supreme Court judges at their offices in the “red zone,” meetings that were almost always punctuated with bombings and the sounds of war. We worked with parliamentarians, judges, lawyers and others in the legal profession to provide suggested amendments to the Iraqi Constitution and to draft implementing legislation for the Federal Supreme Court.
Despite the state of the country and despite the genuine animosity between the people of Iraq and their obvious disdain for much of American policy, without exception every single person I worked with and met during that incredible experience was desperate for reform and change and was willing to put in the work to make those changes. The Iraqi people put their disagreements aside so that they could utilize the resources (including PILPG’s team) provided to them to revise their Constitution and draft legislation to implement the important aspects of that Constitution. Without any reservation, I can say that, even as a woman in a very patriarchal society, I was treated with nothing but kindness, generosity and the highest forms of professionalism. These people were living in a constant state of fear and danger; indeed some had to take drastic measures to ensure that their meetings with us remained secret upon fear of death and yet their professionalism in the tasks never waivered. In order to work towards turning their country around and re-building it they took advantage of every resource we could offer and spent hours and hours working with us to do the work necessary to create a new government.
When our grant came to an end, I came back to the United States and relocated to Miami. It was quite a shock to me when I came back to practice law to be continually faced with the rampant unprofessionalism that pervades the legal profession here in Florida. That is the reason I became involved in the Professionalism Committee when I moved up to Palm Beach and why I believe that the strides we have taken as a community have been so hopeful. It is also why I believe there should be a call to action for judges, lawyers, and paralegals – that we make the decision every day, in every interaction to simply be the best professional we can be and be the best ambassador for our profession possible.
It is clear that within our own community in the Palm Beach County Bar Association we are often “preaching to the choir” with our calls for increased professionalism and civility. I have met some of the best and most professional attorneys I have worked with in this country here in Palm Beach County, both in my firm and in the membership of the Palm Beach County Bar Association. But my practice in Palm Beach has also exposed me to those who just don’t get it or don’t care about being civil or professional. I believe it is incumbent on us to push the calls for increased professionalism and civility into our interactions with everyone we meet and interact with in our personal and professional lives.
I believe it is our duty as members of the legal profession to be ambassadors for professionalism, civility, common courtesy and kindness so that we can be a light of hope for each of our communities. We need to take a step back and understand that the disputes of our clients are not personal to us and conduct ourselves with the utmost respect for our clients, opposing counsel, opposing clients, judges and everyone with whom we interact in our representation of these matters. This is not always an easy task, but if the Iraqi people who were facing such horrors in their own daily lives can be gracious, kind and professional to a young female attorney from the United States, then there is no reason each one of us cannot behave the same way with members of our own communities.
This is a message that needs to reach beyond the membership of our Palm Beach County Bar Association and the way that message gets out is through each one of us.
Professionalism should not be hard and it won’t be if we are all on the same page and hold ourselves and those with whom we interact accountable to the same standards. This is my call to action to spread the message of professionalism and civility expectations beyond our own membership.