The Top 10 Improvements to PBCBA’s Standards of Professional Courtesy and Civility
by Adam Rabin and Michael D. Mopsick
Two years ago, the Palm Beach County Bar Association (“PBCBA”) and 42 other voluntary bar associations in South Florida set a goal to promote the Florida Supreme Court’s amended Oath of Attorney Admission and adherence to accepted standards of professional courtesy throughout South Florida. To further this goal, the PBCBA Board of Directors recently approved a significant revision and update to its Standards of Professional Courtesy and Civility (the “Standards”), which have since been endorsed by the judges of the 15th Judicial Circuit. The Standards also have been adopted by the other largest voluntary bar associations in South Florida (Broward, Cuban American, Dade, Martin, and South Palm Beach). Accordingly, for the first time, attorneys practicing across the four judicial circuits in South Florida (the 11th, 15th, 17th, and 19th) will now be subject to the same Standards, ending the variances of what is deemed to be acceptable professional conduct between circuits. Likewise, each judicial circuit will have its own professionalism panel grievance procedure to enforce the Standards.
The major improvements to the PBCBA’s Standards are summarized as follows:
- The Preamble. PBCBA updated its preamble in the following ways: the preamble now references how the Standards will apply across all South Florida counties; it references the Florida Supreme Court’s amended Oath of Attorney Admission, that includes a pledge of lawyer civility; and it references the 2013 Florida Supreme Court opinion that requires all judicial circuits to create professionalism panels to hear professionalism grievances.
- Pro Se Litigants. This change adds language to cover attorneys’ communication with pro se litigants, not just communication between attorneys. (Section I, 1.)
- Making Reasonable Efforts to Confer Before Unilaterally Scheduling a Matter. This change now expressly requires scheduling counsel to make “reasonable efforts” to confer with opposing counsel before unilaterally scheduling a hearing, deposition or other event. (Section I, 2.)
- Production of Documents. This modification aligns the permitted form of responses to requests for production with Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.350 by permitting the production of documents as they are kept in the usual course of business or as they correspond to the requests. (Section II, 3.)
- Application of the Standards to Tribunals Other Than the Courts and to Transactional Practice. PBCBA made this change so that lawyers throughout South Florida are held to the same standard of professionalism and civility regardless of the forum, including administrative hearings, arbitration panels, and mediation. PBCBA also extended the Standards to apply in transactional practice, negotiations, and other non-litigation matters. (Preamble; Section III).
- Denigration of the Court or Other Tribunal and Staff is Not Permitted. PBCBA has expanded the scope of the prohibition of denigration of opposing counsel to include the court/tribunal and staff. (Section III, 1.)
- Copying Opposing Counsel with Enclosures on Correspondence to the Court. This change provides that all enclosures delivered to the court must also be e-mailed or delivered to opposing counsel, including all authorities, highlights, testimony excerpts, and similar materials. (Section IV, 3)
- Refraining from Argument in Correspondence to the Court. This change makes clear that the only medium by which a lawyer should communicate legal or factual argument to the court is through a motion or memorandum, not a cover letter. (Section IV, 4.)
- Correcting Misstatements to the Court/Tribunal. This update clarifies the burden imposed upon counsel to correct errors in statements to the court/tribunal and the obligation for counsel to disclose adverse, controlling authority to the court/tribunal. (Section IV, 1).
- E-mails Replace References to Faxes in the Standards. This change replaces all references to faxes with e-mails. (Section IV, 2.).
These improvements to the Standards will create a uniform baseline for lawyers’ professional conduct and a new level of civility across South Florida. Likewise, the advent of Supreme Court ordered professionalism panels across South Florida’s four judicial circuits will provide a parallel mechanism by which the Standards may be enforced in each circuit.
To view the revised Standards of Professional Courtesy and Civility, click here.
Adam Rabin practices with McCabe Rabin in West Palm Beach in the areas of business, securities and whistleblower litigation. He is a past president of PBCBA and co-chairs the South Florida “Got Civility” Project. Mr. Rabin was the lead author of the revisions to the Standards.
Michael D. Mopsick practices with Shapiro Blasi Wasserman & Gora in Boca Raton in the areas of trust and probate litigation and mediation. He co-chaired PBCBA’s Professionalism Committee from 2012-14, is a past president of the South PBCBA, and has been a Palm Beach County representative on the South Florida "Got Civility" Project.