Civility and Professionalism Guidelines

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Preamble

A. Guidelines

B. Lawyer's Duties to Other Counsel

  1. Communications with Adversaries
  2. Scheduling
  3. Service of Papers
  4. Depositions
  5. Document Demands
  6. Interrogatories
  7. Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution
  8. Written Submissions to a Court, Including Briefs, Memoranda, Affidavits, Declarations, and Proposed Orders
  9. Ex Parte Communications with the Court

C. Lawyer's Duties to the Court

D. Judge's Duties to Others


Preamble

In its purest form, law is simply a societal mechanism for achieving justice. As officers of the court, judges and lawyers have a duty to use the law for this purpose, for the good of the people. Even though "justice" is a lofty goal, one which is not always reached, when an individual becomes a member of the legal profession, he or she is bound to strive towards this end.

Unfortunately, many do not perceive that achieving justice is the function of law in society today. Among members of the public and lawyers themselves, there is a growing sense that lawyers regard their livelihood as a business, rather than a profession. Viewed in this manner, the lawyer may define his or her ultimate goal as "winning" any given case, by whatever means possible, at any cost, with little sense of whether justice is being served. This attitude manifests itself in an array of obstinate discovery tactics, refusals to accommodate the reasonable requests of opposing counsel re: dates, times, and places, and other needless, time-consuming conflicts between and among adversaries.This type of behavior tends to increase costs of litigation and often leads to the denial of justice.

The Central District recognizes that, while the majority of lawyers do not behave in the above described manner, in recent years there has been a discernible erosion of civility and professionalism in our courts. This disturbing trend may have severe consequences if we do not act to reverse its course. Uncivil behavior does not constitute effective advocacy; rather, it serves to increase litigation costs and fails to advance the client's lawful interests. Perhaps just as importantly, this type of behavior causes the public to lose faith in the legal profession and its ability to benefit society. For these reasons, we find that civility and professionalism among advocates, between lawyer and client, and between bench and bar are essential to the administration of justice.

The following guidelines are designed to encourage us, the members of the bench and bar, to act towards each other, our clients, and the public with the dignity and civility that our profession demands. In formulating these guidelines, we have borrowed heavily from the efforts of others who have written similar codes for this same purpose. The Los Angeles County Bar Association Litigation Guidelines, guidelines issued by other county bar associations within the Central District, the Standards for Professional Conduct within the Seventh Federal Judicial Circuit, and the Texas Lawyer's Creed all provide excellent models for professional behavior in the law.

We expect that judges and lawyers will voluntarily adhere to these standards as part of a mutual commitment to the elevation of the level of practice in our courts. These guidelines shall not be used as a basis for litigation or for sanctions or penalties.

Nothing in these guidelines supersedes or modifies the existing Local Rules of the Central District, nor do they alter existing standards of conduct wherein lawyer negligence may be determined and/or examined.

A. Guidelines

  1. We will practice our profession with a continuing awareness that our role is to advance the legitimate interests of our clients. We will endeavor to achieve our clients' lawful objectives in legal transactions and in litigation as quickly and economically as possible.
     
  2. We will be loyal and committed to our clients' lawful objectives, but we will not permit that loyalty and commitment to interfere with our duty to provide objective and independent advice.
     
  3. We will advise our clients that civility and courtesy are expected and are not a sign of weakness.
     
  4. We will treat adverse parties and witnesses with fairness and due consideration. A client has no right to demand that we act in an abusive manner or indulge in any offensive conduct.
     
  5. We will advise our clients that we will not pursue conduct that is intended primarily to harass or drain the financial resources of the opposing party.
     
  6. We will advise our clients that we reserve the right to determine whether to grant accommodations to opposing counsel in all matters that do not adversely affect our clients' lawful objectives. Clients have no right to instruct us to refuse reasonable requests made by other counsel.
     
  7. We will advise our clients regarding availability of mediation, arbitration, and other alternative methods of resolving and settling disputes.
     
  8. We will advise our clients of the contents of this creed when undertaking representation.

B. Lawyer's Duties to Other Counsel

  1. Communications with Adversaries

    • We will adhere to all express promises and to agreements with other counsel, whether oral or in writing, and will adhere in good faith to all agreements implied by the circumstances or local customs.
       
    • When we reach an oral understanding on a proposed agreement or a stipulation and decide to commit it to writing, the drafter will endeavor in good faith to state the oral understanding accurately and completely. The drafter will provide the other counsel with the opportunity to review the writing. A client has no right to demand that we act in an abusive manner or indulge in any offensive conduct.
       
    • We will not write letters for the purpose of ascribing to opposing counsel a position he or she has not taken, or to create "a record" of events that have not occurred. Letters intended only to make a record should be used sparingly and only when thought to be necessary under all of the circumstances. Unless specifically permitted or invited by the court, letters between counsel should not be sent to judges.
  2. Scheduling

    • We will consult other counsel regarding scheduling matters in a good faith effort to avoid scheduling conflicts.
       
    • We will endeavor to accommodate previously scheduled dates for hearings, depositions, meetings, conferences, vacations, seminars, or other functions that produce good faith calendar conflicts on the part of other counsel, where it is possible to do so without prejudicing the client's rights. If we have been given an accommodation because of a calendar conflict, we will notify those who have accommodated us as soon as the conflict has been removed.
       
    • We will notify other counsel and, if appropriate, the court or other persons, at the earliest possible time when hearings, depositions, meetings, or conferences are to be canceled or postponed. Early notice avoids unnecessary travel and expense of counsel and may enable the court to use the previously reserved time for other matters.
       
    • Unless time is of the essence, as a matter of courtesy we will grant first requests for reasonable extensions of time to respond to litigation deadlines. After a first extension, any additional requests for time will be considered by balancing the need for expedition against the deference one should ordinarily give to an opponent's schedule of personal and professional engagements, the reasonableness of the length of extension requested, the opponent's willingness to grant reciprocal extensions, the time actually needed for the task, and whether it is likely a court would grant the extension if asked to do so.
       
    • We will not request an extension of time solely for the purpose of unjustified delay or to obtain a tactical advantage.
       
    • We will not attach to extensions unfair and extraneous conditions. We may impose conditions for the purpose of preserving rights that an extension might jeopardize or for receiving reciprocal scheduling concessions. We will not, by granting extensions, seek to preclude an opponent's substantive rights, such as his or her right to move against a complaint.
  3. Service of Papers

    • We will not time the filing or service of motions or pleadings in any way that unfairly limits another party's opportunity to respond.
       
    • We will not serve papers sufficiently close to a court appearance so as to inhibit the ability of opposing counsel to prepare for that appearance or, where permitted by law, to respond to the papers.
       
    • We will not serve papers in order to take advantage of an opponent's known absence from the office or at a time or in a manner designed to inconvenience an adversary, such as late on Friday afternoon or the day preceding a secular or religious holiday.
       
    • When it is likely that service by mail, even when allowed, will prejudice the opposing party, we will effect service personally or by facsimile transmission.
  4. Depositions

    • We will take depositions only when actually needed to ascertain facts or information or to perpetuate testimony. We will not take depositions for the purpose of harassment or to increase litigation expense.
       
    • We will not engage in any conduct during a deposition that would be inappropriate in the presence of a judge.
       
    • During depositions we will ask only those questions we reasonably believe are necessary for the prosecution or defense of an action. We will not inquire into a deponent's personal affairs or question a deponent's integrity where such inquiry is irrelevant to the subject matter of the deposition. We will refrain from repetitive or argumentative questions or those asked solely for purposes of harassment.
       
    • When defending a deposition, we will limit objections to those that are well founded and necessary to protect our client's interests. We recognize that most objections are preserved and need be interposed only when the form of a question is defective or privileged information is sought.
       
    • When a question is pending, we will not, through objections or otherwise, coach the deponent or suggest answers.
       
    • We will not direct a deponent to refuse to answer questions unless they seek privileged information or are manifestly irrelevant or calculated to harass.
       
    • When we obtain documents pursuant to a deposition subpoena, we will make copies of the documents available to opposing counsel at his or her expense, even if the deposition is canceled or adjourned.
  5. Document Demands

    • We will carefully craft document production requests so they are limited to those documents we reasonably believe are necessary for the prosecution or defense of an action. We will not design production requests to harass or embarrass a party or witness or to impose an undue burden or expense in responding.
       
    • We will respond to document requests in a timely and reasonable manner and not strain to interpret the request in an artificially restrictive manner to avoid disclosure of relevant and non-privileged documents.
       
    • We will withhold documents on the grounds of privilege only where it is appropriate to do so.
       
    • We will not produce documents in a disorganized or unintelligible manner, or in a way designed to hide or obscure the existence of particular documents.
       
    • We will not delay document production to prevent opposing counsel from inspecting documents prior to scheduled depositions or for any other tactical reason.
  6. Interrogatories

    • We will carefully craft interrogatories so that they are limited to those matters we reasonably believe are necessary for the prosecution or defense of an action, and we will not design them to harass or place an undue burden or expense on a party.
       
    • We will respond to interrogatories in a timely and reasonable manner and will not strain to interpret them in an artificially restrictive manner to avoid disclosure of relevant and non privileged information.
       
    • We will base our interrogatory objections on a good faith belief in their merit and not for the purpose of withholding or delaying the disclosure of relevant information.  If an interrogatory is objectionable in part, we will answer the unobjectionable part.
  7. Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution

    • Except where there are strong and overriding issues of principle, we will raise and explore the issue of settlement in every case as soon as enough is known about the case to make settlement discussion meaningful.
       
    • We will not falsely hold out the possibility of settlement as a means for adjourning discovery or delaying trial.
       
    • In every case, we will consider whether the client's interest could be adequately served and the controversy more expeditiously and economically disposed of by arbitration, mediation, or other forms of alternative dispute resolution.
  8. Written Submissions to a Court, Including Briefs, Memoranda, Affidavits, Declarations, and Proposed Orders

    • Before filing a motion with the court, we will engage in more than a mere pro forma discussion of its purpose in an effort to resolve the issue with opposing counsel.
       
    • We will not force our adversary to make a motion and then not oppose it.
       
    • In submitting briefs or memoranda of points and authorities to the court, we will not rely on facts that are not properly part of the record. We may present historical, economic, or sociological data, if such data appears in or is derived from generally available sources.
       
    • In civil actions, we will stipulate to relevant matters if they are undisputed and if no good faith advocacy basis exists for not stipulating.
       
    • Unless directly and necessarily in issue, we will not disparage the intelligence, morals, integrity, or personal behavior of our adversaries before the court, either in written submissions or oral presentations.
       
    • We will not, absent good cause, attribute bad motives or improper conduct to other counsel or bring the profession into disrepute by unfounded accusations of impropriety.
       
    • We will not move for court sanctions against opposing counsel without first conducting a reasonable investigation and unless fully justified by the circumstances and necessary to protect our client's lawful interests.
       
    • We will not cause any default or dismissal to be entered without first notifying opposing counsel, when we know his or her identity.
       
    • When a draft order is to be prepared by counsel to reflect a court ruling, we will draft an order that accurately and completely reflects the court's ruling. We will promptly prepare and submit a proposed order to other counsel and attempt to reconcile any differences before the draft order is presented to the court.
  9. Ex Parte Communications with the Court

    • We will avoid ex parte communication on the substance of a pending case with a judge (or his or her law clerk) before whom such case is pending.
       
    • Even where applicable laws or rules permit an ex parte application or communication to the court, before making such an application or communication, we will make diligent efforts to notify the opposing party or his or her attorney.

C. Lawyer's Duties to the Court

  1. We will speak and write civilly and respectfully in all communications with the court.
     
  2. We will be punctual and prepared for all court appearances so that all hearings, conferences, and trials may commence on time; if delayed, we will notify the court and counsel, if possible.
     
  3. We will be considerate of the time constraints and pressures on the court and court staff inherent in their efforts to administer justice.
     
  4. We will not engage in any conduct that brings disorder or disruption to the courtroom. We will advise our clients and witnesses appearing in court of the proper conduct expected and required and, to the best of our ability, prevent our clients and witnesses from creating disorder or disruption.
     
  5. We will not write letters to the court in connection with a pending action, unless invited or permitted by the court.
     
  6. Before dates for hearing or trials are set, or if that is not feasible, immediately after such date has been set, we will attempt to verify the availability of necessary participants and witnesses so we can promptly notify the court of any likely problems.
     
  7. We will act and speak civilly to court marshals, court clerks, court reporters, secretaries, and law clerks with an awareness that they, too, are an integral part of the judicial system.

D. Judge's Duties to Others

  1. We will be courteous, respectful, and civil to the attorneys, parties, and witnesses who appear before us. Furthermore, we will use our authority to ensure that all of the attorneys, parties, and witnesses appearing in our courtrooms conduct themselves in a civil manner.
     
  2. We will do our best to ensure that court personnel act civilly toward attorneys, parties and witnesses.
     
  3. We will not employ abusive, demeaning, or humiliating language in opinions or in written or oral communications with attorneys, parties, or witnesses.
     
  4. We will be punctual in convening all hearings, meetings, and conferences.
     
  5. We will make reasonable efforts to decide promptly all matters presented to us for decision.
     
  6. While endeavoring to resolve disputes efficiently, we will be aware of the time constraints and pressures imposed on attorneys by the exigencies of litigation practice.
     
  7. Above all, we will remember that the court is the servant of the people, and we will approach our duties in this fashion.