- 2015 - July - 27th -
Christian George

Bar Bulletin: Take an active role in area professionalism

By Christian George, Chair of the JBA Professionalism Section

Dan Bean, past president of The Jacksonville Bar Association, used to begin and end each of the monthly JBA luncheons with the same few words: “It’s a great day to be a Jacksonville lawyer.”

In the last few years, I have truly come to appreciate the truth in this simple phrase and realize just how lucky we are to practice law in Jacksonville.

The Northeast Florida legal community is something special and the tremendous collegiality among our local lawyers and members of the judiciary is not as common as one may hope.

While it is often taken for granted among our Bar, it holds true for us here in Jacksonville. We are lucky that, even on the most adversarial case, we can still trust opposing counsel to uphold their handshake agreement.

And more importantly, even after zealously representing our clients in a hearing, we can walk out and continue to be friends and colleagues, respecting each other and the job we have to represent our clients.

When I first started as a lawyer, I know I did not appreciate this. But, as the years fly by and as my gray hair spreads, I become more and more proud to live and practice in Jacksonville.

Realizing just how important it is to protect our collegial atmosphere, I have spent the last several years involved with these issues through The Jacksonville Bar Association’s Bench and Bar Professionalism Subcommittee.

This committee was formed at the direction of The Florida Supreme Court, who ordered in 2013, that all bars have a local professionalism panel to enforce violations of professional standards for the legal industry.

At that time, newly appointed County Court Judge Eric Roberson and I began working to develop this program for the 4th Judicial Circuit. This year, the reins have been handed over to Ashley Greene and Becky Barlow, and I know under their leadership the committee will continue to provide the service intended.

Civility in the legal profession is important for us all. And too often, it seems attorneys get caught in the moment and lose their way.

As a reminder to us all, I thought it might be helpful to share what I have learned from handling these complaints over the last several years.

Interestingly, more than half of the complaints received were filed by clients, upset that their attorney had failed to return their calls or emails.

Lack of responsiveness is also the No. 1 cause of Florida Bar grievances and legal malpractice claims.

These statistics go a long way to show just how easily complaints can develop and how easily they can be avoided.

Complaints involving legal fee disputes are also common. Showing again just how important communication is between client and attorney.

For those who are not aware, The Florida Bar offers an Attorney Consumer Assistance Program, which is staffed with lawyers and other individuals who attempt to resolve conflicts before a formal Bar complaint is filed.

When communication between attorney and client has failed, it is important for attorneys to know where to turn and that there are resources available.

When it comes to complaints between attorneys, it is clear that the vast majority of them are the result of zealous representation going too far and reaching the level of aggressive behavior with opposing counsel.

This, again, demonstrates why it is so utterly important for attorneys to remember that in Jacksonville, and throughout the state, this behavior will not be tolerated.

While there may be times when each of us goes a step too far, we must self-police. Make apologies where necessary. Failing to do so or letting things continue to get out of hand is not beneficial to you or your client.

When attorneys approach the practice of law in this way, it benefits and strengthens the Bar as a whole. The Bench and Bar Professionalism Committee is here to step in when needed. If you need it, use it.

But, if each of us remembers why we became lawyers in the first place, we can hopefully avoid any pitfalls that might result in a complaint being filed.

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