Nov. 9, 2023
Letter: Building civility means tackling bias one complaint at a time
The State Bar Board of Trustees recently approved and staff have submitted to the Supreme Court for its review several important measures to reinforce civility.
We write to thank Ms. Wendy L. Patrick for her October 25 column highlighting the importance of civility in the legal profession, "Promoting integrity and inclusion: California's formal recognition of the link between civility and bias." She highlights recent past measures including the Civility Toolbox, the Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) subfield credit in elimination of bias, and the importance of Rule 8.4.1, Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation. Since that rule was implemented in 2018, we have seen continuous growth in the number of associated complaints. While the numbers remain a relatively small proportion of total complaints, the fiscal year 2023 complaint volume was more than eight times that of 2019, and the total over the five fiscal years showed significant growth:
Ms. Patrick correctly emphasizes the connection between civility and bias. The Civility Task Force, a joint project of the California Judges Association and the California Lawyers Association comprised of a diverse group of more than 40 distinguished lawyers and judges, expressed one dimension of this linkage in its final report when it said - about growing incivility in the profession - that "...young lawyers, women lawyers, lawyers of color, and lawyers from other marginalized groups are disproportionately on the receiving end."
Resulting from the task force's work, the State Bar Board of Trustees recently approved and staff have submitted to the Supreme Court for its review several important measures to reinforce civility, including:
●Amendments to California Rule of Court 9.7 to require lawyers to annually affirm or reaffirm their civility oath;
●A new State Bar Rule 2.3 to implement the changes to the oath; and
●Amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct to make incivility a basis for discipline.
The new one-hour MCLE civility requirement Ms. Patrick mentions was also an outgrowth of the Civility Task Force's work. It was approved by the Board this year and will be required beginning with the compliance period ending January 31, 2025.
The new MCLE civility requirement and the new proposed rules are designed to reinforce a commitment to civility, ensure that all California attorneys affirm that they are bound by the aspirational language of the civility oath, and support the goals of the oath with corresponding ethical rules.
George Cardona , chief trial counsel, State Bar of California
Leah Wilson , executive director, State Bar of California