Oregon Bench and Bar Commission on Professionalism – History

Professionalism Commission History


During the decade of the 1980s, Oregon State Bar leaders from both the bench and bar increasingly were concerned about a perceived waning of cooperation and courtesy among members of the Bar. Many believed that the collegiality and collaborative approach that had personified the legal profession was sliding, and that the resolution of disputes was increasingly preceded by pointless legal maneuvering rather than constructive and efficient problem solving in service to the public.

This led ultimately to the adoption of a Statement of Professionalism by the Oregon State Bar on October 5, 1990, and by the Supreme Court of Oregon on January 23, 1991. The Oregon Bench/Bar Commission on Professionalism was established in 1995 by Order of the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. The Commission’s charge was “[t]o promote among lawyers and judges principles of professionalism, including civility and commitment to the elimination of the discrimination within the judicial system to ensure that it equitably, effectively, and efficiently serves the people of Oregon.”

The Commission was originally comprised of nine members, including judges (appointed by the chief justice), lawyers, law professors and a lay person appointed by the president of the Oregon State Bar. Over the years, the Commission has expanded and is now comprised of 26 members, including new lawyers, a recipient of the Commission’s Edwin J. Peterson Professionalism Award, and others. The Commission initially met four times a year and currently meets six times per year. The Commission immediately began its tasks to improve the quality of practice, within the bar and in the Oregon court system.

Continuing Legal Education

Immediately following its creation, the Commission instituted ongoing continuing legal education programs that were offered to Oregon lawyers and judges throughout the state. These programs continue to this day as one of the main activities of the Commission. The Commission continues to adapt its CLE offerings to the evolving needs of the profession and the public. Any organization interested in having a Commission member speak at a CLE or other event on the topic of professionalism is invited to contact the Commission.

In 1997, the Commission received an award from the American Bar Association as one of the outstanding programs promoting professionalism in the country. With the financial award from that recognition, and through an anonymous grant, the group began a collection of training materials on the topic of professionalism.

The Commission and the Three Oregon Law Schools

From its inception, law school faculty from the three Oregon law schools have served on the Commission, and the Commission has involved all three schools in its efforts to instill knowledge of the need for professional conduct within the legal profession. Early on, the Commission sponsored effective and well-received orientation courses on professionalism in conjunction with Oregon’s law schools for first year law students.

With guidance from the Commission, the law schools began to incorporate professionalism content into substantive courses. In addition, all three schools inaugurated programs to teach first-year students about the importance of professionalism, either in orientation programs before the first year of study began, or during the course of the first year. Additionally, the Commission sponsored in-depth orientation courses on professionalism in conjunction with Oregon’s law schools for all first year law students.

Numerous practicing lawyers and judges, including Commission members, have participated in programs at the law schools that include interactive exploration of professionalism issues that arise in litigation and in a law practice. In addition, Commission members lecture at each of the schools from on professionalism issues.

The Commission also meets regularly at each of the law schools. Normally such meetings began with a joint Commission/faculty lunch, followed by a Commission meeting at which faculty members are encouraged to attend.

Professionalism at the Admission Ceremonies

The Supreme Court of Oregon conducts formal admission ceremonies twice a year. Beginning in 2018, the ceremonies have included remarks from the Commission to the new lawyers on the topic professionalism.

Professionalism Surveys

The Commission also periodically conducts a survey among all Oregon lawyers and judges concerning the level of professional conduct within the profession and within the court system. The surveys seek to measure the level of professional conduct of lawyers and judges so that that conduct objectively can be measured from year to year.

Edwin J. Petersen Professionalism Award

Chief Justice Edwin Peterson, and named the award after him. This award is bestowed every year by the Commission on a “recipient publicly and consistently demonstrates integrity, honesty, and willing compliance with the letter and spirit of the law, with the rules of court, with the highest ethical standards, and with the professional standards stated in the OSB Statement of Professionalism.”