The Institute | The Committee on the Profession and the Courts Calls for Creation of the Institute | Report and Recommendations | Reforms | Implementation of Recommendation to Establish Ethics Institute | Institute Functions | Structure & Governance
The Institute on Professionalism in the Law serves as a permanent commission dedicated to nurturing professionalism among the members of the legal profession. The Institute provides forums for constituencies of the profession to convene for study and discussion of issues pertaining to professionalism.
In 1993, then Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye appointed a "blue ribbon" panel of lawyers and judges from throughout New York State to explore public perceptions of the legal profession, examine the causes of public dissatisfaction with lawyers and discuss and recommend meaningful solutions. The Committee on the Profession and the Courts, the "Craco Committee" named after Chair, Louis A. Craco, went about its work in a diligent, open and inclusive manner. The Committee, which consisted of a diverse group of judges and lawyers from urban and rural areas, reviewed voluminous published materials, met with representatives from every sector of the legal profession, including bar leaders, law school deans and attorney disciplinary counsel, and traveled to all corners of the state to hold public hearings and learn the views of New York's consumers of legal services.
In November 1995, the Committee on the Profession and the Courts issued a landmark report that led to several major reforms of New York State’s legal profession. The Committee’s single most important finding, however, deserves special emphasis:
"[T]he actual level of professionalism brought to bear on clients’ affairs by thousands of lawyers across the state, in court and office, day in and day out, is extraordinarily high."
The Committee acknowledged the deterioration of public confidence in the legal profession, noting that it was to a large extent the result of historical, social, economic and cultural forces beyond the control and reach of the bar. Nonetheless, because some of the discontent was well-founded and within the profession's power to correct, the Committee recommended more than 30 initiatives to improve the profession and the courts.
In August 1996, the Administrative Board of the Courts adopted in principle all but two of the recommendations set forth by the Committee on the Profession and the Courts. Just a few of the significant reforms that have come out of the work of the Committee, include:
- A continuing legal education requirement for the New York Bar, including a special Bridge-the-Gap component for newly-admitted lawyers that focuses on ethics and professionalism, practical skills and law office management.
- Expanded court rules addressing frivolous conduct by attorneys, including replacement of the $10,000-per-case limit on costs and sanctions with a $10,000-per-incident limit.
- Standardization of grievance committee practices around the State to promote uniformity of practices and procedures among the Grievance Committees in the Four Departments. Additionally, development of a mediation program to address complaints against attorneys that are legitimate but not sufficiently serious to warrant imposition of sanctions.
- Adoption of an aspirational Code of Civility that sets forth standards of behavior to which the bench, the bar and court employees should aspire.
- A Statement of Client’s Rights posted in every New York law office to serve as a valuable educational tool for clients concerning what they may reasonably expect from their lawyer.
- A Statewide program to resolve attorney-client fee disputes by arbitration or mediation, which is still in the works.
- Establishment of a permanent entity devoted to promoting professionalism and the bar's awareness and understanding of ethical issues.
Implementation of Recommendation to Establish Professionalism Institute
The Administrative Board directed the creation of two task forces charged with developing plans to implement the Committee on the Profession and the Courts’ recommendations. A subcommittee of one of these task forces was asked to determine whether the establishment of an ethics institute in New York was desirable; and, if so, to suggest its functions, structure and governance. The subcommittee found that the social, economic and technological forces contributing to the demise of confidence in the legal profession are not short-lived and therefore cannot be adequately addressed through the legal profession’s formation of short-term committees that reach conclusions, issue recommendations and then disband. The subcommittee strongly endorsed the formation of a permanent institute that would provide continuous, long-term attention to the challenges facing the legal profession, as well as provide another structure to counter the many centrifugal forces acting upon the profession.
The Institute on Professionalism is responsible for, among others:
- promotiong scholarship and practical attention to emerging ethics and professionalism issues;
- sponsoring Statewide public hearings and convocations on the public’s experience with lawyers and the justice system;
- promoting public understanding of matters relating to the role of law and lawyers;
- facilitating conversations among disparate views on topics of common interest, including practitioners and law school academics, who often address the same issues from different perspectives;
- observing and commenting upon ethics-related initiatives;
- monitoring and commenting upon methods for enforcing standards of professional conduct;
- issuing reports on relevant issues; and
- maintaining communications with other states on issues of mutual concern.
Members of the Institute are appointed by the Chief Judge and consist of a Chair and 18 members. A concerted effort was made to insure that the Institute’s membership is truly representative of the legal profession in our State. It includes attorneys from many different practice settings, from every major area of the state; judges from the appellate and trial courts; legal educators, and, at least one member who is not a lawyer.