Family Law

Message from the Chair

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It’s a jungle out there! No, I’m not referring to the political climate, but rather the trend towards a lack of civility, courtesy, and cooperation within our profession as family law litigants. In a decision from earlier this year, Lasalle v. Vogel (2019) 36 Cal. App.5th 127, 248 Cal.Rptr.3d. 263, it was pointed out that things in California had gotten so bad between attorneys, the State Bar decided to amend it’s oath to newly admitted attorneys, by including a civility requirement,  as well as a vow to treat opposing counsel with “dignity, courtesy, and integrity.” That was back in 2014 and five years later the Court of Appeal is still urging a return to professionalism.

Hope is not lost, however. We can still return to the golden age when lawyers treated each other with respect and courtesy. Although the Sections are no longer with the State Bar, the “Civility Toolbox” remains a great resource. It provides “best practices of civility in the practice of law and are offered to promote both the effectiveness and the enjoyment of the practice of law and economical client representation.” The Civility Toolbox and a number of civility related resources can be found at the website.

As members of the section, you’re also able to find a number of programs and articles which address the issue of civility within the context of family law. We have an excellent webinar with the Judges Monica F. Wiley and Richard C. Darwin, who provide the judicial perspective and discuss how civility impacts litigation and representation of the client’s interests.

In the program, “Civility: It’s Not Just a Good Idea. It’s the Law,” San Francisco County Superior Court Judges Suzanne Bolanos, Ernest Goldsmith, and Edward A. Torpoco, discuss why civility is important, how civility is legally mandated, and best practices in discovery, deposition, oral argument, and motion practice.

If you are a new attorney or just need a refresher on how to make a good impression in front of the judge, be sure to check out the webinar, “Attorney Civility in the Practice of Law: Courtroom Decorum and Etiquette,” presented by the Honorable Darrell Mavis.

All of these programs and many more can be found through our online education catalog and are available in podcast or on-demand format.

In closing, let us be reminded of Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger’s observation that lawyers who know how to think but have not learned how to act, are a menace and liability to the administration of justice. So, when it comes to civility and our profession, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. It’s time to choose sides.

Stephen A. Montagna
Chair, Family Law Executive Committee of the
California Lawyers Association

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