Monday, December 29, 2014

YLD President's Message: "Zealous Representation" Is Not An Excuse

By Anthony "Nino" Martino

A virtue taken too far can become a fault. The concept of zealous representation has a long tradition in the profession; however, the term "zeal" should not be conveniently misconstrued to mean “zealotry” in an attempt to excuse unethical or otherwise unprofessional conduct carried out in the name of furthering a client’s interests.

Where the lines are drawn and where the boundaries are between zealous representation and zealotry may not always be clear, but remember that competent and diligent representation of a client does not bind a lawyer “to press for every advantage that might be realized for a client." See Comment (1) to ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3.  The question should always be asked whether the action/opposition (“advantage”) actually advances the client’s cause through the pursuit of truth, not whether it is simply an available means permitted by law that will make the opponent’s life more difficult. Being technically correct does not justify unprofessional or discourteous behavior and will actually undermine the client’s cause and hamper the administration of justice in that your opponent will almost certainly respond in kind. 

Zeal requires only that the client’s interests are paramount. This objective professional commitment to a client is compatible with civility, courtesy, and fair dealing. Although it is true that zealous representation includes strategy, the tactics used to advance that strategy are in the sole province of the lawyer. Civility is also a virtue, not a shortcoming. Willingness to temper zeal with respect for society’s interest in preserving responsible judicial process will help preserve it.

Ultimately, the effective representation of your client is not a zero-sum game rendering professional courtesy obsolete. In fact, a failure to adhere to these principles will almost certainly be a disservice to you and your clients in the long run, not to mention your reputation. The highest manifestation of professionalism is the exercising of dispassionate judgment without losing sight of legal and ethical boundaries. 

When in doubt, simply remember your oath: "I will maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers … I will employ for the purpose of maintaining the causes confided to me such means only as are consistent with truth and honor … To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.” See Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar.

Recent & Upcoming YLD Events:

The YLD’s Pro Bono Committee recently held a luncheon at the HCBA building showcasing a multitude of pro bono opportunities available to the young lawyers of Hillsborough County. Additionally, family forms clinics are planned for January 6, February 17, March 3, April 21, May 19, and June 2 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of the George Edgecomb Courthouse. Please contact Ella Shenhav or Katelyn Desrosiers to get involved in any of the YLD’s pro bono activities.