The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is proactively promoting civility among the state’s lawyers with the addition of a civility pledge in its lawyer oath.
Last month, Supreme Court Chief Justice Evan Jenkins signed an order that provisionally added language on civility to the oath lawyers take when they are admitted to practice law in the state. All five Supreme Court Justices have taken the updated oath, which reads:
“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.”
The new language, which is underlined, is available for public comment until June 16, 2021, after which the Supreme Court will review the comments and decide on final adoption.
With this move, West Virginia joins the less than half of U.S. states that have updated their lawyer oaths to contain language promoting civil and professional behavior. South Carolina, California and Texas have added similar language to their oaths.
“Thanks to our constitutional form of government, people rely on the courts to settle disputes in a peaceful manner,” said Chief Justice Jenkins in a press release. “There is no better place to demonstrate that civility than in the judges and attorneys who work in the court.”
Promoting civility in Illinois
The Illinois Supreme Court has also taken steps to promote civility among the lawyers and judges of the state, including outlining ethical standards that guide lawyer behavior in the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.
In September 2005, the Court adopted Rule 799 to create the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, which is tasked with promoting “among the lawyers and judges of Illinois principles of integrity, professionalism and civility.” The Commission does so through CLE, its mentoring program, collaborations with legal organizations, an active blog, and other outreach activities such as its annual future law-focused conference.
In addition, Illinois attorneys must complete a minimum of six of their total CLE credit hours for each two-year reporting period in the area of professionalism, civility, legal ethics, diversity and inclusion, or mental health and substance abuse.
For judges, the Court requires those transitioning to the bench to attend a New Judge Seminar. The five-day program provides new judges with the opportunity to critically consider topics like access to justice, ethics, judicial conduct and professionalism, and decision making in a collaborative learning environment.
Through the biennial Judicial Education Conference, judges and justice partners across Illinois explore the legal, sociological, cultural, and technical issues that impact decision making, aid the effective administration of justice, and promote public integrity, trust, and confidence in the courts.
Finally, each year the Commission on Professionalism collaborates with Illinois’ nine law schools to lead first-year law students in an orientation program that introduces them to the core concepts of attorney professionalism.
During the orientation, Illinois Supreme Court and Appellate Court Justices reflect on the importance of civility and professionalism in the law. They then administer the Pledge of Professionalism, during which students promise to uphold the highest standards and ideals of the legal profession.
While West Virginia’s updated lawyer oath is another example of placing civility at the forefront of our legal and justice systems, the work certainly doesn’t stop there. As expressed by the Commission’s Executive Director Jayne Reardon, “Civility and professionalism are bedrock principles essential to the legal profession.”
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