Professionalism movement to build on successes Professionalism movement to build on successes December 1, 2004 Regular News With an emphasis on actual achievements, the Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism and The Florida Bar’s Committee on Professionalism held their semi-annual retreat recently in Tallahassee.New members of the two panels went through an orientation and then members of both groups got together for a brainstorming session.“We’re not trying to talk about improving professionalism; we’re trying to improve professionalism,” said Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, who chairs the commission.The commission and committee broke down into four subcommittees — Bar, Diversity, Law Schools, and Judicial — to discuss various goals and projects. But the groups also heard reports on the new Professionalism Diversion Course and efforts to bring professionalism programs to the judiciary.“This workshop has really taken off for several reasons,” Cantero said. “The first is the attendees really love it.”The program allows lawyers in the disciplinary process where a grievance committee has found probable cause of a relatively minor and professionalism-related rules violation to settle the case by agreeing to take the course, at a cost of $750.“One thing we want to do is make sure grievance committees know about this program so there can be referrals to it,” the justice said.Fifteenth Circuit Court Judge Peter Blanc, of the Judicial Subcommittee, said ways are being examined to see if judges could make referrals to the course.The problem, he said, is judges can’t just order someone to the program because the $750 cost is effectively a sanction and raises due process questions. Likewise, if a judge threatens a misbehaving lawyer with a choice of contempt or attending the diversion course, the lawyer could demand a hearing on the contempt issue.Blanc said a rule change could be considered that would allow judges to warn lawyers about unacceptable conduct, and if it reoccurs, order them to the diversion program.“Perhaps the best we can do for expanding use [of the diversion course] by judges is give them that kind of tool, and by just letting more people know about the program, making sure the various grievance committees know about it, as well as judges,” he said. “Fundamentally, we think it’s a good thing, and we want to expand its use, but we’re getting into some grey areas here.”Cantero said he’d like to see professionalism programs aimed at judges, including such things as having the jurists sign and post outside their chambers the Ideals of Professionalism and using speaking appearances before legal groups to promote professionalism.“I think the more judges talk about it, the more lawyers realize this is a priority for judges; and if it’s a priority for judges, it’s a priority for lawyers,” Cantero said.Miami attorney Robert Fiore reported on ongoing projects for the Standing Committee. Those include adding a question on professionalism to the local bar polls of judges and promoting the January 7 professionalism program featuring Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.He also gave a brief history of professionalism efforts since the commission and center were created in 1996 by a special order of then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Kogan, after then-Bar President John Frost sent a letter. (The center was staffed as of January 1997.)All 10 of the state’s law schools participate in the professionalism commission, and all have professionalism programs.“The day those students hit the ground running at law school until they leave three years later, professionalism issues are being discussed,” Fiore said.Other efforts include the Professionalism Committee’s annual professionalism student essay contest, the new e-mentoring program for law students, and an annual professionalism award for law school professors.Once done with law school, professionalism plays a major part in the Young Lawyers Division’s Practicing With Professionalism course that all new Bar members take, Fiore noted. There is also an annual masters seminar on professionalism, a professionalism award is given to a bar association or other group for conducting an outstanding professionalism program, and a recorded series of interviews with senior lawyers and judges.Finally, there is the William M. Hoeveler Judicial Award to annually honor an outstanding jurist, he said.“When you think of how far we’ve come in not even 10 years, we should be very, very proud,” Fiore said.Each committee had a breakout session to discuss its goals and ongoing projects. The Judicial Subcommittee is seeking ways to promote professionalism among judges, including distributing a set of principles for judges and encouraging judges to display the creed of professionalism at their offices.The Law School Subcommittee is working to carry out the e-mentoring program, including preparing a training video. The Bar subcommittee is also working on that project, including finding new ways to recruit mentors.The Diversity Subcommittee has met with Bar leaders, including Bar President Kelly Overstreet Johnson and President-elect Alan Bookman, to discuss ways to encourage minority participation in Bar activities. The panel is looking at creating a diversity video and at ways to encourage members of minority bar associations to join in Bar activities.