Putting the “PRO” in Professionalism

By Tami Augen-Rhodes
Published July / August 2017

On Friday, April 21, 2017 Palm Beach County proudly hosted the First Annual “Putting the “Pro” in Professionalism” Symposium presented by The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism and The Center for Professionalism of The Florida Bar.  The program commenced with President Elect Michael Higer introducing keynote speaker Eugene Pettis, a former Florida Bar President.

President Pettis gave a dynamic keynote address on “Reconnecting to Your Why.”  He asked if it was possible to achieve professionalism through regulation alone; he encouraged us all to take a deeper look – a self assessment – to determine if we are living our “why”; and he advised us that our “why” cannot be defined by finances alone.  If we are solely driven by money, we have lost our “why.”  President Pettis reminded us all that our “why” should be something that excites us and fills us with adrenaline.  We should not be comparing ourselves to others; we should be leaders who “lift people up to the table of opportunity.”  If we are able to connect to our “why,” we can use this as a guiding light through our own, unique journey in the practice of law.  Do not ignore the little voice that tells you what you should be doing; instead, do it!  Do public good in your life, treat people fairly, give of yourself to your community and fulfill the uniqueness of you being an attorney!  President Pettis conveyed a powerful message to everyone in attendance at the Symposium.

After lunch, attendees participated in breakout sessions.  Professor Scott Rogers from University of Miami School of Law, Dr. Kirsten Davis from Stetson University College of Law, and Professor Larry Krieger of Florida State University College of Law shared information and insights that go beyond the mere practice of law.  Professor Rogers discussed Mindfulness and Reciprocal Practice teaching us that “[m]indfulness invites us to direct our attention to what’s actually arising in the present moment and to sustain that focus by attending to it in a manner that is interested in what is taking place and open to the mystery of its natural unfolding.”  Scott Rogers, Mindfulness, Law and Reciprocal Practice, 19 Rich. J.L. & Pub. Int. 331 (2016).   Dr. Davis provided an overview of The Communication Model and discussed the components as well as goals of professional communication.  Dr. Davis demonstrated mechanisms to create a professional impression in communication by managing your message so that same comes across as competent, polite, likable, and dedicated.  Finally, Professor Krieger discussed insights gleaned from his most recent, groundbreaking study regarding professional success from a must read article “What Makes Lawyers Happy?:  A Data-Driven Prescription to Redefine Professional Success”.  See Krieger and Sheldon, 83 Geo. Wash. L.R. 554 (2015).

Dr. Mimi Hull then taught us a twist on “The Golden Rule.”  Rather than “do unto others as you would like done to you…”, we should now, “do unto others as they would like done to them….”  We all have behavioral, surface traits along the continuum of Dominance, Influence, Conscientiousness, and Steadiness.  Learning about these DiSC® Behavioral Styles – for yourself and others – enables us to understand, accept, and communicate more effectively.

Attendees also enjoyed two panel discussions.  The first, dealing with Incivility in the Courtroom, featured a judicial panel comprised of two federal court judges who were previously state circuit court judges, Judge Robin Rosenberg and Judge Robert Scola, as well as Fourth District Court of Appeal Judge Dorian Damoorgian and Eleventh Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel.  Part of the discussion focused on what attorneys and litigants should expect from the bench and vice versa.  Specifically, everyone should be on time, respectful, and prepared.  Attorneys must remember that the dispute is about a case, not with each other.  Counsel should assist in bringing a sense of peace to the case and to her client.  Remember that your opposing counsel is another person who you should work with to seek more kindness in the courtroom, engage in communication, and attempt to be resolution oriented throughout the case.

The second discussion panel taught the Professionalism Expectations for Florida Lawyers.  As of January 30, 2015 the Florida Bar Board of Governors approved the “Professionalism Expectations” which consists of seven broad statements and ninety-five detailed expectations.  These Professionalism Expectations replaced the “Ideals and Goals of Professionalism.”  Both documents can be located on The Florida Bar’s website under Professionalism, Resources.  Importantly, the root of the Professionalism Expectations is to “expect,” meaning that we expect this behavior of our fellow lawyers and judges.  This has been a shift in that previously, ideals and goals were merely seen as aspirational. The expectations are a floor as to the behavior that we should expect from each other, not a ceiling. Practice tips from this panel include:  maintaining formality and using last names when in Court; comply with our Local Rule 4 and pick up the phone to make a good faith attempt to work out issues with the other side as “tone” can be lost in email communication; and do not let a client’s ill will toward the other side become your ill will.

The day concluded with several Professionalism Awards presented by the Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Professionalism.  First, Debra Moss Curtis, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad College of Law, received the Law Faculty Professionalism Award which Greg Colman accepted in her absence. The Group Professionalism Award went to our very own Palm Beach County Bar Association, Judicial Relations Committee, for the “Breakfast with Judges” Program.  Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath and Chair Liz Herman accepted the award.

The day of professionalism left attendees reinvigorated and determined to reconnect to their “why.”  By examining what it means to each of us to be a lawyer, to be privileged to be a part of this profession, to revere the law, and to dedicate ourselves to meeting and exceeding the professionalism expectations, we can transfer those behaviors into more effective interactions with clients, other counsel, and the community and continue on the journey of fulfilling our WHY!


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