State Bar of Georgia
State Bar of Georgia
State Bar of Georgia Interior Page Banner

I. Guiding Principles

The Commission came into being as a result of the conclusion that although professionalism flows from the moral development of individual practitioners of the law, lawyers need the help of an appropriate institution to guide the formation of a voluntary desire to act professionally.  In carrying out its primary charge to promote professionalism among Georgia's lawyers, the Commission has been guided by four principles:

    (1) Professionalism is an umbrella concept, encompassing certain essential elements.

    (2) The Commission serves as both a clearinghouse for professionalism efforts and a catalyst for systemic change.

    (3) The Commission cultivates the professional community of the Bar.

    (4) The Commission endorses the Stop and Think approach to professionalism.

Professionalism as an Umbrella Concept

Since its inception, the Commission has viewed professionalism as a structure with essential elements or values.  The elements are values based on respect for the courts, clients, other lawyers, and the public.  The Commission espouses the values of competence, civility, character, commitment to the rule of law, to the lawyer's roles as counselor, officer of the court and solver of problems, commitment to pro bono, community and public service, and to work for the improvement of the law and the legal system and to ensure access to that system.  Focus on one element, such as civility, results in a narrow view which overlooks other facets which offer great advantages to the Bar and more importantly, to the public.  The professionalism movement in Georgia has spawned two other commissions appointed by the Supreme Court of Georgia, the Commission on Equality, and the Commission on Dispute Resolution.  The Community Service Task Force was created under the auspices of the Commission on Professionalism to bring an expanded focus to the community and public service aspects of professionalism.  The State Bar of Georgia through its Committee on the Standards of the Profession has joined forces with the Commission in designing and conducting a Transition into Practice Pilot Program to test the feasibility of requiring newly admitted lawyers to complete a skills and values curriculum linked with mentoring by experienced lawyers.  As a joint effort of the Georgia Supreme Court and Bar, the Commission works closely with the Law Practice Management, Lawyer Assistance, Consumer Assistance, Diversity, and Pro Bono Programs of the State Bar and with the Office of Dispute Resolution.  Each of these is effectively dealing with subjects which fall under the umbrella of professionalism.

Clearinghouse and Catalyst

Composed of representatives of the organized bar, practicing bar, judiciary, law schools, and the public, the Commission provides a forum where representatives of each of these constituencies can come together on a regular basis.  The Commission has become both an archive and a clearinghouse for exchange of information regarding professionalism efforts past and present, local and national.  Georgia's efforts to improve professionalism have become coordinated to avoid duplication and loss of effort due to a failure of communication.  The Commission coordinates and oversees the professionalism projects of some twenty-seven State Bar committees.  The Commission also is seen as a resource for individual lawyers and judges when preparing for presentations on professionalism or developing their own professionalism initiatives.

The Commission serves as a catalyst for systemic change in the legal profession through reinforcement of the fundamental professional values of competence, civility, character, and commitment to the public good.  To that end, the Commission engages in educational programming and makes periodic recommendations to the bar, the judiciary, and the law schools of Georgia.

While it is difficult to arrive at measures of success of a long-range effort to raise the professional aspirations of the lawyers in Georgia, one way to gauge the impact of the professionalism movement is to look at the level of activity aimed at improving professionalism in 1989, when the Commission was created, and then today.  The following examples show how the recommendations and initial efforts of the Commission have been taken up, sustained, and moved forward by increasing numbers of lawyers, judges, and legal educators:

(1) The initiation by lawyers and bar groups of innovative programs  to bridge the chasm between opposing counsel, such as the Atlanta Bar Litigation Section's "Take Your Adversary to Lunch" program, the Macon Bar's "Assurances of Professionalism to Opposing Counsel," and "Resolving Litigation's Civil Wars," a day-long joint CLE conference of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association.

(2) The development by local bar associations of pledges and creeds, such as the Atlanta Bar Association's Lawyer's Pledge, and the creative uses of such pledges and creeds, i.e., displayed on counsel tables and at bar meetings, announced by judges at calendar calls, printed in bar publications.

(3) The creation of at the judicial district level of increasing numbers of local professionalism committees made up of lawyers and judges whose task is to promote and establish traditions of civility and professionalism by developing programs to honor colleagues adhering to high professional standards.  These professional committees also give the bench and bar the opportunity to address vexing problems, such as incivility, in an informal manner that promotes education and self-improvement.

(4) The institutionalization of Law School Orientations on Professionalism for entering students at each of the state's law schools and the increasing number and variety of courses on professionalism in law school curricula, such as Beyond Law School, the Ethics of Shaping a Professional Life, Making the Transition from Law School to Hanging Out a Shingle.

(5) The expansion of mentoring programs in the law schools and local bar associations.

(6) The growing numbers of lawyers and judges participating in community service through the Great Day of Service, Law Day service programs, and Law Related Education, such as the Forsyth County Bar's commitment to assign lawyers to all Law Related Education classes and to purchase Law Related Education materials for every public school in Forsyth County.

(7) The proliferation of articles on professionalism in bar journals, section, and local bar newsletters, and other publications in the legal community.

Increasing the Community of the Bar

In its efforts to increase the sense of community among members of the bar, the Commission encourages among lawyers and judges the habit of talking with colleagues in dialogue that is essential to a healthy professional life.  These efforts include Professionalism CLE programs, town hall meetings, convocations, law school professionalism programs, mentoring, recognition for community and public service by members of the bar.  To assure the perpetuation of professionalism efforts in Georgia, the Supreme Court issued an order, effective January 1, 1990, requiring each of the active members of the State Bar of Georgia to attend at least one hour per year of continuing legal education (CLE) on the topic of professionalism.  This Professionalism CLE requirement was the first of its kind in the nation.  The general goal of the Professionalism CLE requirement is to create a forum where lawyers, judges, and legal educators can explore and reflect upon the meaning of professionalism in contemporary legal practice.  Building a community among the lawyers of the state is a specific goal of this requirement.

The Stop and Think School of Professionalism

The Commission encourages the habit of reflection ("stop and think") about professionalism issues.  Convinced that exposure to various methods of analysis, weighing of values, and resolution of dilemmas can lead to frameworks for addressing professionalism and ethical issues, the Commission  believes that these habits can be learned.  Scholarly research ranging across some thirty years reveals that human beings develop in their ability to construct ethical judgments (in the sense of moral, upright conduct) along a continuum toward increasingly adequate ethical reasoning.  We know that the potential for ethical development can be activated and nurtured by education.  And we know that all humans develop ethically, regardless of their gender, age, race, class, culture, or religion.

Teaching and learning ethics and professionalism involves at least four skills and capacities:
(1) the ability to recognize ethical and professionalism dilemmas
(2) the ability to form sound judgments
(3) the ability to prioritize values
(4) the ability to implement judgments - which requires cultivating personal and interpersonal skills and habits - communication, honesty, courage, prudence.

Not surprisingly, Professionalism CLE discussions rarely bring forth a consensus, for individuals give differing priorities to values.  However, these programs do give the participants an awareness of the issues and exposure to a framework for analysis of similar issues when they occur in the future.

While acknowledging the harsher realities of the profession, the professionalism effort also attempts to equip lawyers with a variety of strategies for coping with these realities through coordination with the Law Practice Management, Lawyer Assistance, and Consumer Assistance Programs, Pro Bono Project, and the Office of Dispute Resolution.  The professionalism effort also seeks to expand horizons with respect to the richness and variety of the profession and the range of interests compatible with practice in the profession.