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Legal Ethics

Civility oath requires new California lawyers to pledge to behave with dignity

Posted May 2, 2014 6:53 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Illustration by Matt Mahurin
on file from You're Out of Order, January 2013.

New California lawyers must pledge that they will behave with “dignity, courtesy and integrity” as a result of a new oath approved by the state supreme court.

The oath will take effect May 23, the supreme court announced on Law Day in a press release. The Los Angeles Times and the SFGate Blog have stories.

Former state bar president Patrick Kelly had sought the new language because of what he perceived as increasing incivility in the profession. Kelly called for the new oath in a president’s message in the July 2013 California Bar Journal.

“Unfortunately, as a litigator,” he wrote, “I have all too often witnessed attorneys who claim to be zealously representing their clients but who in fact cross the civility line. Such activities include needless and ineffective histrionics during depositions, refusal to grant the other side an extension of time for no good reason, confirming in writing positions that were never taken and even trying to bully the judge in his or her own courtroom. And the list goes on.”

Kelly and a court spokesperson have said the new wording is a reminder of the need for positive professional behavior, rather than a basis for discipline.

The American Board of Trial Advocates is backing adoption of a civility pledge in the lawyer oath in every state.

The additional wording in California will read: “As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.”

Also see:

ABA Journal: "You’re Out of Order! Dealing with the Costs of Incivility in the Legal Profession"

Last updated at 9:25 a.m. to add previous coverage.

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