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  • What is Attorney Professionalism?

    ATTORNEY PROFESSIONALISM

    Definitions of attorney professionalism abound; here's one that is worth your consideration. Attorney Professionalism is dedication to service to clients and commitment to promoting respect of the legal system in pursuit of justice and the public good, characterized by ethical conduct, competence, good judgment, integrity and civility .

    Of primary importance to anyone practicing law is dedication to service to clients. A self-explanatory concept, service to clients is the foundation of professionalism.

    That service must be performed with the recognition that the attorney and client comprise just one aspect of the legal system. Whether you consider adversaries, opposing counsel, fellow practitioners, judges, clerks, partners, government agencies, or legislatures, the faces of the legal system are many. Yet we are all human beings, and our commitment to promoting respect for laws, the processes of the legal system and each other must be a hallmark of our behavior.

    In our work to serve our clients while promoting respect for the legal system, we do so in the pursuit of justice and the public good. In the strictly legal sense, justice can mean the "proper administration of laws. . . to render every man his due." (Black's Law Dictionary). But most would agree that justice necessarily implies more than the "rightness" or "wrongness" of a given act, or strict compliance with the black letter of the law. In the larger sense, pursuing justice connotes pursuing a morally "good" end. Attorneys must look beyond the short-term results and consider the consequences of their actions and advice. To conduct oneself in this way will benefit the public at large—and, to do the public good—must include dedication to providing pro bono services for the needy.

    How, then, may we exhibit attorney professionalism?

    • By exemplary ethical conduct: aspiring to fulfill the spirit, not just the requirements of the Code of Professional Responsibility;
    • By remaining competent: taking advantage of continuing legal education; keeping abreast of the latest developments in our areas of expertise; mentoring younger attorneys;
    • By showing good judgment: providing good client service by formulating discerning opinions and advice based upon knowledge and experience;
    • By acting with integrity: exhibiting soundness of character, fidelity and honesty;
    • By demonstrating civility: behaving with courtesy and respect.

    You will notice that the foregoing discussion contains no mention of making money. Many lawyers are better paid than others who work in other fields. The perception that many lawyers are obsessed with making money, to the detriment of clients, is a stumbling block which stands in the way of the public's acceptance of the reality of attorney professionalism. Change in public perception will have to be incremental, but conduct adhering to the definition of attorney professionalism should bring about that change.

  • Award Information

    To honor a member of the NYSBA for outstanding professionalism, which is defined as dedication to service to clients and a commitment to promoting respect for the legal system in pursuit of justice and the public good, characterized by exemplary ethical conduct, competence, good judgment, integrity and civility.

    Presented by: Committee on Attorney Professionalism

    Contact: Richard Rifkin

    Nomination Deadline: November 14, 2014 

    Date Presented: January 2015 Annual Meeting

    Prize Awarded: Steuben glass timepiece

    The Committee on Attorney Professionalism administers the annual New York State Bar Association Attorney Professionalism Award. We are now seeking nominations for the Award to be presented during the NYSBA 2014 Annual Meeting in New York. Nominations must be submitted and postmarked no later than November 14, 2014 on the 2015 Nomination Form (PDF).

    Here is the Committee’s working definition of attorney professionalism:

    Attorney professionalism is dedication to service to clients and a commitment to promoting respect for the legal system in pursuit of justice and the public good, characterized by exemplary ethical conduct, competence, good judgment, integrity and civility.


    The Award honors attorneys who evidence the highest attributes of professionalism in the practice of law: attorneys who have labored in “the vineyard” and are especially valued by their clients and their colleagues. Therefore, rather than a lifetime achievement award, this particular honor relates to professionalism in the actual practice of law. Background letters from clients, other attorneys and judges have provided a full picture for the reviewing committee in the past. Your nomination should, as inclusively as possible, specify how the nominee has demonstrated the following attributes:

    a) Dedication to service to clients and always acting in the best interests of the client;

    b) Civility: behaving to all with courtesy, consideration and respect;

    c) Exemplary ethical conduct: endeavoring at all times to fulfill the spirit, and not just the requirements, of the NY Rules of Professional Conduct;

    d) Competence: keeping abreast of the latest developments in his or her area of practice;

    e) Good judgment: providing client service consisting of discerning opinions and advice based upon knowledge, experience, moral as well as legal considerations;

    f) Mentoring, educating and assisting other attorneys;

    g) Integrity: always exhibiting soundness of character, fidelity, honesty and fairness.


    Please keep in mind, in considering your nomination, that there are other awards honoring service to bar associations and pro bono activities. In this Attorney Professionalism Award, the New York State Bar Association seeks to honor a person who exemplifies the highest standards of professionalism in the actual practice of law.

    Prior award recipients include:

    2014 John S. Marwell, Esq.
    2013 John Ferrara, Esq.
    2012 Christopher T. McGrath, Esq.
    2011 James P. Bessette, Esq.
    2010 Mark A. Longo, Esq.
    2009 Jill M. Cicero, Esq.
    2008 Peter V. Coffey, Esq.
    2007 Frank E. Yannelli, Esq.
    2006 Terrence M. Connors, Esq.
    2005 George J. Nashak, Jr., Esq.
    2004 James M. Conboy, Esq.
    2003 Anne Reynolds Copps, Esq.
    2002 Carlton F. Thompson, Esq.
    2001 Lucille A. Fontana, Esq.
    2000 Hon. Barry Kamins 

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