Responding to continued criticism of the legal profession, Florida recently adopted a new Code for Resolving Professionalism Complaints (professionalism code). The new requirements transform the aspiration of professionalism into a mandate, but important questions remain as to the meaning of key terms and the methods of implementation. In its opinion approving the professionalism code, the Florida Supreme Court stated that Florida lawyers had “traditionally followed a more passive, academic approach to enhance and improve professionalism.” In other words, the combination of continuing legal education programs, speeches, contests, and meetings — methods once called “procedural professionalism” in a 2005 Florida Bar Journal article — have been insufficient to reverse the perception problems. But on occasion, The Florida Bar does use existing rules to tackle challenging problems of lawyer behavior that also could be characterized as gross violations of professionalism standards. For example, R. 4-8.4(d) of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar prohibits lawyer misconduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, including conduct “to knowingly, or through callous indifference, disparage, humiliate, or discriminate against litigants, jurors, witnesses, court personnel, or other lawyers on any basis….” Nevertheless, the professionalism code represents another tool to directly regulate individual lawyer conduct, providing new rules for initiating, processing, and resolving professionalism complaints.
Keith W. Rizzardi, Redefining Professionalism? Florida's Code Mandating the Aspirational Raises Challenging Questions