Colorado Supreme Court

Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel

Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.

What is professionalism anyway?

Leading up to October’s Professionalism Month, a committee of leading lawyers sought to define the term. Here is the result.


Fall 2015

As you may know, October is Legal Professionalism Month in Colorado. Legal Professionalism Month aims to encourage members of the legal profession, professional entitles, and judicial officers and staff to rededicate themselves to demonstrating the highest standards of professionalism and integrity and promote public confidence in the profession and the court system.

Recently, the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations’ joint Professionalism Coordinating Council (“PCC”) undertook the monumental task of defining the term “professionalism.” The PCC charged a subcommittee of lawyers and one law student with this mission.

Over the course of several months, the Definition Subcommittee met multiple times and reviewed various draft definitions, debating the relative merits and drawbacks of each. The Subcommittee wanted a succinct way of answering the oft-asked question, “What is professionalism?” The result of this collaboration? The following short and sweet—but also deeply meaningful—statement:

Professionalism is conduct reflecting the values embodied in the Colorado Attorney Oath of Admission, the Colorado Principles of Professionalism, and the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. These values require attorneys always to act competently, civilly, and with integrity and to commit themselves to the public good and to furthering the interests of justice.

The definition addresses three key elements:  conduct, values, and duty. Note that professionalism is defined concretely, as a way of acting toward others, rather than as an abstract idea that is subject to the interpretation of the actor. Although the PCC debated whether to incorporate the Oath, Principles, and Rules by reference, those items are referenced not simply for their content, but as evidence of the values attorneys should always strive to uphold, which are further explained in the second sentence.

The above definition was formally adopted by the PCC on March 11, 2015, and Chief Justice Nancy Rice has endorsed it as well. You will see it frequently, from the PCC’s website to the new Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel website (to be published on November 1, 2015). The PCC hopes this definition will inform the public and inspire attorneys, reminding them of the important duties with which they are charged. For a more in-depth discussion on the topic of this article, please see “Why Professionalism Matters,” in the September 2015 edition of The Docket.

The Honorable Robert Hawthorne is a judge on the Colorado Court of Appeals. Catherine Shea is Assistant Regulation Counsel in the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel.