Saturday, June 14, 2014

Local Professionalism Panels in Practice

By Caroline Johnson Levine

The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit is working diligently to ensure that the practice of law is accomplished with professionalism and civility. On November 1, Administrative Order S-2013-071 established a Local Professionalism Panel (LPP). The LPP is a wonderful method to address an attorney’s unprofessional conduct in a confidential and non-punitive manner before the attorney’s conduct rises to the level that may necessitate an investigation by The Florida Bar.      

Any member of the public may file a complaint with the LPP regarding an attorney (respondent) who has engaged in unprofessional behavior. Subsequently, the LPP may simply appoint one of its members to informally contact the respondent in order to resolve the unprofessional behavior. For more egregious behaviors, the LPP will meet with the respondent in order to provide counsel and advise a better course of conduct or provide information and training resources to the respondent. Gently informing lawyers that incivility is actually not an acceptable practice can be incredibly effective, as The Florida Bar’s “Hawkins Commission of Review of the Discipline System” reported that 90 percent of lawyers who had been referred to practicing with professionalism programs had no subsequent disciplinary history.

William Kalish, of Akerman LLP, is the chair, and Edward Waller, of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney/Fowler White Boggs, is the training coordinator for the LPP subcommittee.  Each LPP will consist of one judge and two attorneys who have been thoroughly trained to conduct LPP’s in a consistent and effective manner. Please contact Kalish at to begin an LPP referral or learn more about the program.

Importantly, the LPP will not conduct a disciplinary hearing. Rather, the real benefit of the LPP is its intent to conduct an interactive non-punitive discussion between the parties. This can provide an attorney with an opportunity to receive mentoring from experienced attorneys who wish to provide guidance and information as to a better method of presenting oneself in the courtroom and in the public arena. Lawyers who would like to utilize the benefits of the LPP should view the panel as a career development opportunity for the respondent, where LPP members can provide suggestions to help educate and mentor the respondent that there exist better methods to handle stressful situations.

Professionalism and civility issues are becoming more important to the legal community, as Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis recently spoke about professionalism at the Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, and it was apparent how important he felt that unprofessional behavior is damaging the practice of law and the reputation of lawyers in society. Justice Lewis made it clear that when he began practicing law, it was considered a gallant profession where practitioners balanced advocacy with polite rhetoric. It is the hope of many lawyers that there can be a brighter future where practicing with professionalism is of paramount importance.