Remarks Upon Receipt of the 2020 OCBA Lawrence G. Mathews, Jr. Young Lawyer Professionalism Award
Keshara D. Cowans, Esq.
Professionalism Committee // The Briefs // July 2020, Vol. 88 No. 6
It’s often said that professionalism isn’t the job you do, it’s how you do the job. I consider professionalism to be the outward manifestation of a personal commitment to excellence and a drive to consistently maintain optimum performance in every endeavor.
It is an irrefutable fact that professionalism is fundamental in the practice of law. I am pleased to have begun my legal career during a period of renewed emphasis on professionalism. As a new lawyer, numerous mentors chorused that the legal community is small and the reputation that young lawyers build in the early days of practicing law would remain with us throughout our entire career. In training for my first job as an assistant public defender for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, several attorneys and judges addressed our class, and each of them impressed upon us the importance of practicing with professionalism. I took this advice to heart and comported myself accordingly.
Subsequently, that same advice became a directive when the Supreme Court of Florida amended the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar to include language that required attorneys to pledge fairness and civility to opposing parties and their counsel in all written and oral communication. As bar counsel with The Florida Bar, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to share my passion for professionalism with my attorney peers throughout the state by regulating our profession while simultaneously working to improve the public perception of lawyers. While studies continued to show that people generally lack trust in our profession, I resolved to encourage my colleagues to join me in striving to do our part in changing the narrative regarding our most honorable profession.
As a member of the teaching faculty for Practicing with Professionalism, I took great pride in engaging new lawyers who were enthusiastic about embarking upon their first year of practice. My goal was always to guide them in becoming principled lawyers who were able to balance zealous representation of clients with respectful interaction with opposing counsel and staff. I urged them to be conscientious lawyers who intentionally check any latent bias toward their women and/or minority colleagues. I impressed upon those new lawyers the importance of having good mentors to advise them throughout the course of their careers. I shared with them that same sage counsel that underscored all of my own professional dealings – to establish a reputation for ethics and civility that would precede them for the life of their career.
At the present, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to our profession. Our meetings and hearings that would normally have been conducted in person are now taking place virtually. However, change in setting – from formal courtrooms and conference rooms now to our casual dining rooms and home offices – does not presuppose relaxed decorum. To the contrary, it is absolutely necessary that we exhibit professionalism through keeping abreast of ever-evolving procedural changes and demonstrate flexibility in altering our business practices to comply with those changes. Further, our personal lives have been turned upside down, lending to added stress and uncertainty about the future. Grace and courtesy are needed more than ever in our dealings with one another. We are indebted to our voluntary bar associations, which have been key in providing resources to support our collective response in practicing with professionalism during this challenging time.
I am honored by the nomination from the Central Florida Association for Women Lawyers and am thrilled to have been selected by the Orange County Bar Association to be the 2020 recipient of the Lawrence G. Mathews, Jr. Young Lawyer Professionalism Award. I am humbled to be included in the number of remarkable attorneys who have previously received this award, and I am honored to be recognized with The Honorable Karen S. Jennemann and N. Diane Holmes as the 2020 Professionalism Award recipients. I am thankful for my mentors, who generously share their wisdom and guidance in helping me to become an attorney whose works have garnered this recognition from my peers. I am immensely grateful for my parents, who instilled in me the importance of integrity and kindness, for my husband and his unwavering love and support, and for my children, who are my greatest blessings.
Keshara D. Cowans, Esq., is the EEO/Equity & Title IX Officer in the Office of Legal Services for Orange County Public Schools. She is a current member of the OCBA Executive Council and a past president of the Young Lawyers Section. She has been a member of the OCBA since 2008.