California Lawyers Association

Maintaining Norms in Our Profession and in Serving the Public

By President Emilio Varanini and
Chair of the Board of Representatives Howard “Chip” Wilkins

The rapidly changing landscape we face poses opportunities as well as challenges for the CLA community in our work as professionals and in our service of the public. As a result, as attorneys we must make our maintaining norms an even more important and intrinsic part of our entire practice, including such activities as disparate as participating in remote hearings and depositions, integrating new technologies into our practices, or wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Our profession’s norms are what guide much of our behavior and decision-making. Our norms go beyond the language of statutes and regulations that we use to interpret the law and help to make those laws and regulations work in ways that benefit all of us — the state as a whole and the public. These norms are developed and reinforced by our community of lawyers here at CLA as well as elsewhere with our partner local and affinity bars and the American Bar Association.

An example of such a norm is the notion of civility. To effectively serve our clients, we need to zealously advocate for them while remaining polite and respectful to our opposing counsel and the court.

The pandemic, with all the stress and changes that it has wrought, is testing our ability to adhere to this particular norm. Remote depositions and other new procedures require accommodation and patience. We’ll need to draw on our reserves of empathy to maintain our norms of civility while adopting and adapting new technology to practice and enhance access to justice in this era of COVID-19.

Our bar association is committed to helping you maintain these and other all-important professional norms. Here are a few of the ways we’re attempting to do that.

  • Community. By working together toward shared goals, we forge bonds that reinforce norms, including the need for civility in our profession. In lieu of in-person events, we have stepped up to provide online training and resources. Our virtual communities provide space for members to exchange perspectives, views, and tips. And if you’re craving human connection, we have arranged a series of online coffee breaks.
  • Ethics Committee. We all aspire to adhere to our profession’s high ethical norms. Our Ethics Committee helps members stay up to date on these obligations. Approved last summer by the Board of Representatives, the committee produces educational content and advisory opinions on emerging ethical issues that address and help to keep vibrant the norms by which we all live.
  • Awards. We all know people in our profession who truly embody our norms. As a bar association, we recognize them with our annual awards program, holding them up as examples of the best our profession has to offer. 
  • Health and Wellness. We can’t do our jobs or adhere to our professional norms without healthy bodies and minds. In 2020, CLA established a Health and Wellness Committee to provide resources and content that support attorney wellness, including general health, mental health, and substance abuse.

We hope you take advantage of all the resources CLA has to offer. And we’re grateful for your participation in our community, which strengthens our norms and enhances the legal profession state-wide.

These norms can never be an excuse for turning a blind eye, let alone failing to address, structural racism or for failing to enhance the access to justice for the public. Indeed,  maintaining these longstanding norms is integral to the Rule of Law.

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