Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Be Nice, or, Setting Expectations for Public Citizenship

The California State Bar will add new language to its oath for new lawyers to include a vow of civility and professionalism:

“As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.”

Will this change the face of the profession?  Will it change the perception of the profession?   Will it only increase the canon of lawyer jokes? 

I do not know, but this new language is instructive and will affect the expectations of new lawyers and perhaps inculcate a renewed sense of virtue.    As a teacher, I believe strongly in the value of setting clear, explicit expectations early.   I am also learning more and more about the force of “hidden curriculum,” those signals we send to our students by the values we laud, by the way we indicate success or failure.   

If we teach students, by the emphases of our curriculum, by the tone of our discourse, by the career paths we encourage, that the profession is for profit, power and prestige, they will learn it.    If we teach students, by the model of our service, by the civility of our classes, by the praise of public citizenship, that the profession is for justice, service and the rule of law, then they will learn it.

This may appear to be a cosmetic move by the bar, and some young lawyers may smirk as they swear it, sure that it is a joke at odds with what they have been taught.   Perhaps, however, some young lawyers will swear it with their hearts, minds and guts, because their teachers taught them what it means to be a lawyer.

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