fbpx

2020 Revolutionized Standards of Civility in New York – with a Peer Interview of Tyson & Mendes Partner Mike Coffey

Author: Kiley McCarthy Connolly

Guest Editor: Wendy Skillman

Featured: Mike Coffey

July 8, 2020 12:00pm

Revolutionized Standards

In New York, 2020 brought an emphasis on civility and a remodel of its Standards of Civility.   The New York State Bar Association’s President, Michael Miller, explained, “The Standards of Civility have been modernized for the first time since their initial 1997 adoption, particularly concerning communications where technological advances have been substantial, and also expanded to include transactional and other non-litigation settings.”[1]

The revolutionized standards act as guidelines rather than laws for an attorney’s behavior, which result in punishment if violated.[2]  However, the New York State Bar Association hopes this revolution will position New York lawyers as leaders in the industry by encouraging them to instill civility in their daily tasks.[3]

History of the Standards of Civility

In 1997, the New York court system implemented the Standards of Civility as an appendix to the then-Code of Professional Responsibility, now called the Rules of Professional Conduct.[4]  The Standards were “principles of behavior to which the bar, the bench and court employees should aspire” and were not permissible for sanctioning or disciplining attorneys.[5]  As clarified in the preamble, “they are a set of guidelines intended to encourage lawyers, judges, and court personnel to observe principles of civility and decorum, and to confirm the legal profession’s rightful status as an honorable and respected profession where courtesy and civility are observed as a matter of course.” [6]

Divided into four parts, the Standards in 1997 included: lawyers’ duties to other lawyers, litigants, and witnesses; lawyers’ duties to the court and court personnel; court’s duties to lawyers, parties, and witnesses; and court personnel’s duties to lawyers and litigants.[7]  However, there were no standards for lawyers in a non-litigation setting until 2020.

New Standards

1. How the Revolution Began

Discussions of a necessary change to the Standards began in 2016 between Chief Judge DiFiore and Lillian Moy, then-chair of New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Attorney Professionalism.[8]  Those discussions were the driving force for the establishment of the Subcommittee on Civility.[9]  The primary authors of the report were Andrew L. Oringer, chair of the Committee on Attorney Professionalism, and Robert Kantowitz, chair of the Subcommittee on Civility.[10]  “Civility and professionalism increase the effectiveness of the justice system and enhance the public’s trust in the legal profession.  These updated guidelines, which reflect the growing complexity of modern-day law practice, serve as benchmarks, confirming the honorability of the legal profession,” said Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.[11]

2. Purpose

The significant development in the standards is the express expansion of Standards to the non-litigation setting.[12]  The updated Standards of Civility have two core sections; one specifically targeted to the litigation setting and one focused on transactional and additional non-litigation settings.[13]

3. Implications

The 2020 Standards evolved to include the ever-advancing technological sources utilized in litigation by adding a section labeled “responding to communications.”  The Standards advise attorneys “to promptly return telephone calls and electronic communications” and indicate attorneys “need not necessarily follow the same means or format as the original communication or the manner requested in the original communication.”[14]

An attorney working on a transaction “should balance the requirements and directions of the client in terms of timing with reasonable solicitude for other parties…a lawyer should not impose deadlines that are more onerous than necessary or appropriate.”[15]  Also, the lawyer “should focus on the importance of politeness and decorum, taking into account all relevant facts and circumstances.”[16]

In a February 6, 2020 press release, the New York State Bar Association stated, “Demanding a response from a colleague in an unreasonable time frame, unleashing an expletive-laden tirade at legal professionals or engaging in other uncivil acts is no longer acceptable behavior for New York attorneys, according to the Updated Standards of Civility which were recently approved by the Judicial Departments of the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.”[17] The reputation of the legal profession, specifically attorneys, is one so absurd there is an entire section of comedy reserved for poking fun at us. However, with these new Standards, there is hope a new reputation will be built on respect and honor. The revolutionized Standards welcome in a new era of civility at a time when we need civility the most.

Peer Advice: Interview with Tyson & Mendes partner, Mike Coffey

In May 2020, Tyson & Mendes welcomed their newest partner, Mike Coffey, to their New York office.  Mr. Coffey handles complex litigation throughout the Tri-State area of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.  Mr. Coffey has extensive trial experience and has taken over 125 matters to trial in his career. In a virtual sit down, Mr. Coffey discussed the importance of civility in an attorney’s career.

Mr. Coffey reflected on how civility has impacted his career and recalled his first job as a licensed attorney. Mr. Coffey was an Assistant District Attorney in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office under District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes. Mr. Hynes lectured that the law is a profession and we will be respectful, courteous, and civil always to our adversaries and the Judges. Mr. Coffey recalled learning to be tenacious, but act as a professional and grant courtesies to the other side always, even if the other side is not doing so.  Additionally, Mr. Hynes emphasized one must always comport themselves in a civil manner and explained one can still do so while acting as a terrific litigator.  Mr. Coffey expressed these fundamental lessons have carried throughout his career and practice of law 25 years later.

When asked what Mr. Coffey’s thoughts were on the new Standards of Civility, he expressed his excitement for their change. Mr. Coffey stated the Standards are a reminder the practice of law is a profession and one of the hallmarks of it is acting civil towards fellow attorneys. Civility is important as it is what makes our practice of law a profession. Civility allows attorneys to effectively represent the client’s interests and achieve better results for everyone involved in the legal process more effectively.

Mr. Coffey would advise new attorneys treat others as you would want to be treated.  The hallmark of a great attorney is civility, whether it be in in writing, in telephone calls, in courtrooms, and in all things that you do in life.

To learn about joining the Tyson & Mendes team, please visit our Careers page.

 

[1]April 22, 2019: New York State Bar Association Approves Updated Standards of Civility for NY Legal Profession, New York State Bar Association (2020), https://nysba.org/april-22-2019-new-york-state-bar-association-approves-updated-standards-of-civility-for-ny-legal-profession/.

[2] February 6, 2020: Appellate Division Approves Updated Standards of Civility Developed by State Bar Association, New York State Bar Association (2020), https://nysba.org/february-6-2020-appellate-division-approves-updated-standards-of-civility-developed-by-state-bar-association/.

[3] February 6, 2020: Appellate Division Approves Updated Standards of Civility Developed by State Bar Association, New York State Bar Association (2020), https://nysba.org/february-6-2020-appellate-division-approves-updated-standards-of-civility-developed-by-state-bar-association/.

[4]  NYSBA Comm. On Attorney Professionalism, Revision of the New York Standard on Civility, (February 8, 2019). https://nysba.org/app/uploads/2019/04/7-Agenda-Item-7-CAP-revised.pdf

[5] NYSBA Comm. On Attorney Professionalism, Revision of the New York Standard on Civility, (February 8, 2019). https://nysba.org/app/uploads/2019/04/7-Agenda-Item-7-CAP-revised.pdf

[6] New York State Unified Court System, Standards of Civility, (October 1997). https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/IP/jipl/pdf/standardsofcivility.pdf

[7] New York State Unified Court System, Standards of Civility, (October 1997). https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/IP/jipl/pdf/standardsofcivility.pdf

[8] April 22, 2019: New York State Bar Association Approves Updated Standards of Civility for NY Legal Profession, New York State Bar Association (2020), https://nysba.org/april-22-2019-new-york-state-bar-association-approves-updated-standards-of-civility-for-ny-legal-profession/.

[9] Id.

[10]Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Andrew L. Oringer, Civility Matters – N.Y. Courts Update and Expand the Standards of Civility for Attorneys JD Supra (2020), https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/civility-matters-n-y-courts-update-and-78130/.

[13] April 22, 2019: New York State Bar Association Approves Updated Standards of Civility for NY Legal Profession, New York State Bar Association (2020), https://nysba.org/april-22-2019-new-york-state-bar-association-approves-updated-standards-of-civility-for-ny-legal-profession/.

[14] Joint Order of the Departments of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Standards of Civility, N.Y., at Section 3 “Responding to Communications” (January 2020). https://nysba.org/app/uploads/2019/04/7-Agenda-Item-7-CAP-revised.pdf

[15] Joint Order of the Departments of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Standards of Civility, N.Y., at Section 2 “Standards for Transactional /Non-Litigation Settings” (January 2020). https://nysba.org/app/uploads/2019/04/7-Agenda-Item-7-CAP-revised.pdf

[16]  Joint Order of the Departments of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Standards of Civility, N.Y., at Section 2 “Standards for Transactional /Non-Litigation Settings” (January 2020). https://nysba.org/app/uploads/2019/04/7-Agenda-Item-7-CAP-revised.pdf

[17]Apr February 6, 2020: Appellate Division Approves Updated Standards of Civility Developed by State Bar Association, New York State Bar Association (2020), https://nysba.org/february-6-2020-appellate-division-approves-updated-standards-of-civility-developed-by-state-bar-association/.

Copyright © 2021 Tyson & Mendes LLP. All Rights Reserved. Website by Big Behavior.