Texas Bar Journal • April 2024

Texas Day of Civility—April 4, 2024

Celebrating professionalism in our practice.

Written by William G. Hagans

two people arguing a third person standing in the middle

What’s the difference between ethics, civility, and professionalism? It’s a question that every lawyer has asked themselves. James H. “Blackie” Holmes III, co-chair of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Professionalism that wrote the Texas Lawyer’s Creed, noted, “Ethical conduct can be codified, but professionalism must come from within the lawyer.”1 My father, Fred Hagans, the other co-chair of the committee that wrote the Texas Lawyer’s Creed, observed the attitude that many seem to have: “Professionalism is the way I conduct myself and treat others. Unprofessional conduct is the way others practice and treat me.”2

Maybe civility is a subset of professionalism. One of the three C’s of professionalism—caring, civility, and competence. If you don’t care for your clients, why will anyone else? But don’t forget to care about our profession—our impact on the profession; impact on judge, jury, and opposing counsel; and impact on our individual selves. Rule 1.01(a) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct requires lawyers to “not accept or continue employment in a legal matter which the lawyer knows or should know is beyond the lawyer’s competence.” Being professional is more than just being nice.

This year we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the adoption of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed. Since the first proclamation in 2018 by the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, we have celebrated a Day of Civility. But what does any of that mean to our day-to-day practices? How do we respond when the person on the other end of the phone hangs up on us? Or sends us a curt email? Or files a pleading that contains an untrue statement about an appellate holding, about our client, or about us?

At least one time each year, I email a copy of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed to another lawyer and, in an attempt to lower tensions, first tell them that I plan to read it again and ask that they do the same. While I have never had someone tell me they did what I asked, I remain confident that the creed holds within it everything that our profession needs to remember and practice civility and professionalism.

Never forget: We are a profession. We are all in this profession—this bar—together. We are colleagues, and only a small portion of our society is given this awesome and exclusive access to the judicial processes of our government.3 Ethics, civility, and professionalism to each other, to the courts, to our clients, and to the public is characterized by candor, fairness, and an unwillingness to resort to a lesser standard.

Said another way: There ain’t no right way to do the wrong thing.4

Notes

1. Alan Hunt, ‘Professionalism Must Come from Within,’ Lawyers Told, Baylor University Media and Publications (June 9, 2003), https://news.web.baylor.edu/news/story/2003/professionalism-must-come-within- lawyers-told.
2. Hagans, Holmes, Cook, and McCorkle, Reflections on the Texas Lawyer’s Creed, Tex. Bar. J, Vol. 72, No. 10, at *834 (Nov. 2009).
3. Paraphrasing Joe Jamail, Advocacy and Lawyers and Their Role, 47 Baylor L. Rev. 1157 (Fall 1995).
4. Aphorism credited to (among others) Waylon Jennings.


Headshot of William G. HagansWILLIAM G. HAGANS became a lawyer in 2006. He began working with his father, Fred Hagans, in 2011. William is certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is a past president of the Houston Community Board of JDRF (formerly Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), where he remains a board member. Hagans currently serves as secretary of the fellows of the Texas Bar Foundation and vice chair of the State Bar of Texas Professionalism Committee.

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