NJCOP Principles and Pledge
Adherence to standards of professional responsibility, along with a broad respect for the law, is a hallmark of an enlightened and effective system of justice. The conduct of lawyers and judges should be characterized at all times by professional integrity, personal courtesy and absence of bias in the fullest sense of those terms. All are indispensable ingredients in the practice of law, and in the orderly administration of justice by our courts. In this regard, it is important for lawyers and judges to serve as mentors to new lawyers. Mentoring is a vital part of the imperative to nurture and assure high standards of professionalism, civility, and ethical comportment.
The following Principles, which focus on the goals of professionalism and civility, are aspirational in nature and are designed to assist and encourage judges and lawyers to meet their professional obligations. The Principles apply to all legal matters, litigated and non-litigated. We encourage all judges and lawyers to make a commitment to these Principles, and to conduct themselves in a manner that preserves the dignity and honor of the judiciary and the legal profession.
A. Lawyer’s Relations With Clients
1. To a client, a lawyer owes diligence, competence, faithfulness and good judgment, in the pursuit of client objectives.
2. Clients must be treated with respect. A lawyer should provide objective advice and strive to represent the client’s interests as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. Lines of communication must be kept open and explanations provided for actions taken in the course of representation. Billing practices should be fully explained to a client at the time representation is undertaken.
3. Clients should be advised against pursuing a course of action that is without merit, and should avoid tactics that are intended to harass, or drain the financial resources of the opposing party.
4. Clients should be advised that professional courtesy, fair tactics, civility, and adherence to the rules and law are compatible with vigorous advocacy and zealous representation.
5. A lawyer should model civility and conduct himself or herself with dignity in all professional relationships with clients and the public at large. A lawyer’s conduct should reflect well on the profession and the judicial system. Consistent with the above, lawyers should engage in social media, advertising, and media relations in a dignified, responsible, and honest manner.
B. Lawyer’s Relations With Other Counsel
1. To opposing counsel, a lawyer owes a duty of respect, courtesy and fair dealing, cooperation in all respects not inconsistent with the client’s interests, and scrupulous observance of all agreements and mutual understandings.
2. A lawyer should respect a colleague’s schedule. Agreement should be sought on dates for meetings, conferences, depositions, hearings, trials and other events. A reasonable request for scheduling accommodation, extension of time, or waiver of procedural formalities should not be refused if the interests of a client will not be adversely affected.
3. Forms of pleading, discovery, motions or other papers, should not be used as a means of harassment, or for gaining an unfair advantage. The filing of service or motions, pleading or other papers should not be timed so as to unfairly limit another party’s opportunity to respond, or harass counsel.
4. A lawyer should conduct himself or herself with dignity and fairness and refrain from conduct meant to harass the opposing party. A lawyer should not advance groundless claims, defenses objections, arguments and positions.
C. Lawyer’s Relations With the Court
1. To the court, a lawyer owes honesty, respect, diligence, candor and punctuality. A lawyer has a duty to act in a manner consistent with the proper functioning of a fair, efficient, and humane system of justice.
2. A lawyer must avoid frivolous litigation and non-essential pleading in litigation. Settlement possibilities should be explored at the earliest reasonable date, and agreement should be sought on procedural and discovery matters. Delays not dictated by a competent and justified presentation of a client’s claims or defenses should be avoided.
3. As an officer of the court, a lawyer should act with complete honesty; show respect for the court by proper demeanor; and act and speak civilly to the judge, court staff and adversaries, with an awareness that all involved are integral parts of the justice system.
4. A lawyer should strive to protect the dignity and independence of the judiciary, particularly from unjust criticism and attack.
D. Judge’s Relations With Lawyers and Others
1. To lawyers, parties, and all participants in the legal process, a judge owes courtesy, patience, respect, diligence, punctuality and fairness.
2. A judge must maintain control of proceedings, and has an obligation to ensure that proceedings are conducted in a civil manner. Judges should establish a climate of professionalism that upholds the dignity of the bench and bar. A judge should show respect for the bar by treating lawyers with civility and personal courtesy.
3. A judge should ensure that disputes are resolved in a prompt and efficient manner. However, hearings, meetings, conferences and trials should be scheduled with appropriate consideration to the schedules of lawyers, parties and witnesses.
4. A judge should remain knowledgeable of the law, rules and procedure, and apply them in a fair and consistent manner that enables all parties an adequate opportunity to present their cases.
Adopted 1997, Revised 2020
Principles of Judicial Professionalism
The New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law, a consortium of the State and Federal Judiciaries, the New Jersey State Bar Association, Rutgers Law School and Seton Hall Law School, whose members include attorneys, judges and academics, seeks to identify the better practices of professionalism for attorneys and judges alike. For this purpose, the commission has formulated these recommendations for maintaining the professionalism of judges.
As the guardians of our legal system, judges are expected to establish and maintain the highest level of professionalism, to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary and to abide in all respects by the Code of Judicial Conduct.
A judge should diligently discharge the administrative responsibility of the office without bias or prejudice, maintain judicial competence in judicial administration and facilitate the performance of administrative responsibility. The manner in which judges manage their dockets, interact with counsel and preside over their courtrooms sets a standard of professionalism for the attorneys who appear before them.
At all times, a judge should act and speak in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Just as significantly, the words and actions of judges also shape the public’s perception of the justice system. Being a judge requires diligence, personal integrity and a dedication to the attainment of justice.
With these principles in mind, the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law has prepared this list of “Principles” to guide judges in carrying out their responsibilities. In creating this list, the Commission does not intend to regulate or to provide additional bases for discipline, but rather to maintain the high level of professionalism among New Jersey’s judges.
The Commission respectfully encourages all judges to continue the implementation of these practices in their daily routines and, in so doing, make lawyers and litigants feel welcome in their courtrooms and assured that disputes will be resolved in an efficient, timely and just manner.
Judges’ Responsibilities to Litigants, Lawyers and the Public
• We will establish and maintain the highest level of professionalism, uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary and abide in all respects by the Code of Judicial Conduct.
• We will avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of our public and private activities.
• We will be courteous, respectful and civil to lawyers, parties and witnesses. We will maintain control of the proceedings, recognizing that we have both the obligation and the authority to ensure that all proceedings are conducted in a civil manner.
• We will treat parties, litigants, court staff and others with respect and dignity, without regard to race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or economic status. We will create an environment where all persons are treated fairly, without prejudice or bias. We will instruct court staff to treat all court visitors with the same respect that they themselves would expect.
• We will not take an overly familiar tone with any lawyer, litigant, or witness while in court, and we will address all participants formally and consistently in court by using an appropriate title, such as Ms., Mr., Mrs., Counsel, Dr., Rev., etc.
• We will encourage attorneys to follow the Principles of Professionalism adopted by the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism in the Law.
• If we observe a lawyer being uncivil to another lawyer or others, we will tactfully call it to the attention of the offending lawyer on our own initiative.
• We will encourage continued dialogue between the bench and bar to promote a strong legal community.
• We will encourage lawyers to engage in pro bono service and participate in responsible social action efforts.
• We will consider providing law students the opportunity to intern or extern in our court, as well as participating in mentoring programs that guide new lawyers in their transition into practice.
• We will not employ hostile, demeaning or humiliating words in opinions or in written or oral communications with lawyers, parties or witnesses.
• We will be punctual in convening all hearings, meetings and conferences; if delayed or experiencing a scheduling conflict, we will notify counsel, if possible.
• In scheduling all hearings, meetings and conferences, we will be considerate of time schedules and prior commitments of lawyers, parties and witnesses. We will weigh the consequences, costs and additional expenditure of time that are likely to result from canceling or rescheduling a proceeding.
• In advance of a hearing, we will read all briefs and related documents, and give the issues in controversy deliberate, impartial and studied analysis and consideration.
• We will provide parties an adequate opportunity to present argument to the Court, and we will make a reasonable effort to decide promptly all matters presented to us for decision.
• While endeavoring to resolve disputes efficiently, we will be considerate of the time constraints and pressures imposed on lawyers by the exigencies of litigation practice.
• We will refrain from ex parte communications regarding the merits of a case unless authorized by law or consent of the parties.
• We recognize that a lawyer has a right and a duty to present a cause fully and properly, and that a party has a right to a fair and impartial hearing. Within the practical limits of time, we will allow lawyers to present proper arguments and to make a complete and accurate record.
• We will not hold attorneys or litigants accountable for events beyond their control.
• We will not chastise, correct, or question attorneys in a demeaning manner, especially in front of their clients or the jury. We will not demean or use inappropriate language when addressing counsel, parties or witnesses in any court proceeding or written opinion.
• We will not permit attorneys, parties or court participants to demean or use inappropriate language in any court proceeding or written submission.
• We will make reasonable accommodations for self-represented litigants and, where appropriate, refer them to available resources that may provide additional assistance. As part of the Judiciary, we will support reasonable accommodations to individuals with physical or mental disabilities consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Judges’ Responsibilities to Each Other
• In all opinions and other written and oral communications, we will refrain from disparaging personal remarks, criticisms, or sarcastic or demeaning comments about a judicial colleague.
• We will endeavor to work with other judges in an effort to foster a spirit of cooperation in furtherance of our mutual goal of promoting and nurturing the administration of justice.
Adopted September, 2020
In accepting the honor and responsibility of life in the profession of law, I will strive, as best I can:
• To conduct myself with dignity, courtesy, and integrity;
The Lawyers Pledge is intended to complement the very brief statutory oath administered to New Jersey lawyers upon entry to the bar. It was adapted by the Commission from a Pledge devised by Professor Karl Llewellyn of the University of Chicago. The Pledge focuses on the core responsibilities and values that have long marked the legal profession – fairness, commitment, loyalty, and integrity. It serves as a reminder to newly admitted lawyers that admission to practice is an honor and privilege that carries with it significant responsibilities not only to clients, but to the public and the justice system.
As the lawyer and writer Scott Turow has noted, a lawyer’s job is not always an easy one:
“The lawyer’s job in practice is to be on one hand the impassioned representative of his client to the world, and on the other the wise representative to his client of the legal system and the society, explaining and upholding the demands and restrictions the system places on them both.”
Lawyers must be able to recognize and deal appropriately with such conflicting demands. The advice contained in the Pledge provides a compass that will help young lawyers maintain an appropriate course during their professional careers. The Pledge has been used by judges at the swearing-in of new lawyers, and each year is administered to first-year law students.