Originally uploaded at SSRN.

Abstract

It is a well-settled and often-recited fact that lawyers are “officers of the court.” That title, however, is notoriously hortatory and devoid of meaning. Nevertheless, the Eleventh Circuit recently took the somewhat unprecedented step of utilizing the officer-of-the-court label to, in effect, sanction an attorney for the purportedly uncivil act of failing to provide defendant attorneys with pre-suit notice. While the author applauds the court’s desire to place greater emphasis on lawyer-to-lawyer collegiality as a component of officer-of-the-court status, the uncertainty the decision creates in terms of a lawyer’s role will potentially force litigators to compromise important client-centered duties. This Article argues that it would be preferable for courts to define sanctionable officer-of-the-court duties by reference to well-defined, existing procedural and ethical norms, thereby enhancing predictability and imbuing the label with much-needed substance.