A civility oath for lawyers.

This part 2 of a two-part series I’m doing today on civility.  Part 1 is here.

Civility is one of my 7 Cs of Legal Ethics.  I regularly address it in blog posts and CLE seminars, making clear my opinion that incivility contributes to the stress and anxiety endemic in the legal profession. The topic was central to our discussion on emotional intelligence during Well-Being Week in Law.  For more on the discussion, here are the preview and recap videos.

I’ve often noted that several judges have indicated that lawyers who think they’re scoring points by filing motions replete with name-calling and accusations against opposing counsel are misguided.  Related, during our discussion on emotional intelligence, a consensus emerged that practicing lawyers believe that judges should be more proactive in calling out (and squelching) incivility. The consensus echoes a refrain that has emerged from nearly every seminar I’ve done on civility: we need to do something about it.

Here’s something West Virginia is doing about it. 

On Monday, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals issued a release announcing that the Chief Justice had “signed an order provisionally adopting and releasing for public comment the addition of a civility pledge to the oath lawyers take when they are admitted to the practice of law.”  Here’s the West Virginia oath, with the new language underlined:

  • ““I do solemnly swear or affirm that: I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of West Virginia; that I will honestly demean myself in the practice of law; that I will conduct myself with integrity, dignity and civility and show respect toward judges, court staff, clients, fellow professionals and all other persons; and to the best of my ability, execute my office of attorney-at-law; so help me God.”

According to the release, once the order was signed, all 5 justices took it, along with the President of the West Virginia State Bar and the President of the West Virginia Board of Bar Examiners.  As reported by the West Virginia Metro News and the ABA Journal, the Chief Justice remarked:

  • “West Virginia’s judiciary wants to be a leader and the leadership here is in promoting civility. You can look across the country and around the world that we need a very healthy dose of civility today.”

Indeed. 

Civility

Ps: Here’s the Vermont Attorney Oath.  A few years ago, we started the tradition of the Chief Justice re-administering the oath to all lawyers in attendance at the VBA Annual Meeting.

6 thoughts on “A civility oath for lawyers.

  1. Is that correct that they took an oath that each “will honestly demean myself”? I thought the idea was to reduce demeaning behavior.

    Like

    • I did a bit of research. The same word is in oaths issued by other state bars. Apparently it can be used as a verb “to conduct onself.”

      Like

      • Yes, that makes sense, as in “have the following demeanor.” But still. If a judge says to me, “honestly demean yourself in this court,” I might be at a loss for words.

        Like

      • As long as you are honest about your demeaning. Yet further proof that the duty of candor to the court trumps all other duties.

        Like

  2. When I was sworn in in Michigan (1980) part of the oath included a promise to “abstain from offensive personalities”. I came to understand that in this context “offensive personalities” referred to offensive personal statements, like name-calling, and not simply the fact of having an offensive personality.

    Like

Comments are closed.