What Does “Professionalism” Mean for a Lawyer?

Professionalism is a hot topic right now. It is on the agenda at every lawyer and judicial seminar or continuing education conference, and professional law journals consistently cover the concept. Over the years, numerous surveys have shown the public’s declining trust in the legal profession. In response to these surveys, leaders of the American Bar Association, the Florida Supreme Court, and The Florida Bar have rallied together to encourage Florida attorneys to adhere to aspirational standards of professionalism. This is an admirable goal, yet these institutions offer no clear definition of what professionalism actually IS, leaving many confused about how to implement an undefined concept.

Defining the concept of professionalism is tricky. In general, professionalism today seems to be defined by its lack of a definition, following the lines of, “I know it when I see it.” Rule 19-1.1 of The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar states, “This rule is adopted in recognition of professionalism as the ultimate hallmark of the practice of law. The purpose of this rule is to create a center to identify and enunciate non-mandatory standards of professional conduct and encourage adherence thereto. These standards should involve aspirations higher than those required by the Rules of Professional Conduct.” The rule clearly highlights the importance of professionalism, but again the actual definition of professionalism is left vague.

The Florida Bar’s rules now require members to obtain 5 credits in ethics, professionalism, substance abuse, or mental illness awareness training, as well as the “Practicing with Professionalism” program. Some argue that this merely encourages procedural professionalism, meaning lawyers do not have to BE professional; they simply must complete required training. There is also confusion swirling about how to implement an undefined concept, especially since the aspirational goal of professionalism is looking more and more like a mandate.

While the concrete definition of professionalism may still be up in the air, one thing is for certain: the attorneys at The Llabona Law Group are highly professional. You will know it when you see it.

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