Where Has Civility Gone: The New Year Resolution
Civility is simply another word for kindness. I am routinely getting asked if I am a bulldog in the Courtroom or more plainly if I am mean. Honestly, I try to be the nicest person I can be unless the situation dictates a need to defend my client or my family. Some may disagree, and I respect that, but I find you accomplish more for your clients when people actually want to talk with you.
In a high-stress, deadline-driven profession, lawyers are increasingly uncivil toward each other, legal experts say. Incivility is so rampant in the profession, it’s become a hot topic at legal conferences and discussions within the American Bar Association.
I simply believe that being a jerk in law can lose you business.
The nature, sensitivity and sometimes lasting consequences of legal disputes make it essential for practitioners to keep a level head to counter their opponents or more often their own clients’ impassioned states.
The Good Ole Boy System
People sometimes call being nice to people in your profession, being a part of the “good ole boy system”. Personally, I started practicing in Horry County six years ago. I knew no one, but I was welcomed because I made myself available. Practicing law is an especially close-knit practice area, with attorneys typically socializing in small circles, and often encountering each other daily in professional settings. They’re unlike other groups that might never see each other again.
I don’t have to agree with you to be nice to you. Honestly, I don’t have to know you to be nice to you. “There is a human physiology of shunning of lawyers in law that are considered uncivil,” Hertz said, “People won’t make referrals to them.” In other words, being less civil in law “could affect an attorney’s bottom line,” he added. Why would you want to work with people you do not like?
People believe this to not be true in litigation, where rather than hurting business, aggression among litigators can create an advantage. There actually is nothing wrong with aggression – you should never be bullied or back down from doing your job, but that does not mean you have to be a jerk either.
“In personal injury law, there is a sense that the other side is the enemy,” said Hertz, who’s been an attorney for 37 years. “Personal injury plaintiffs and defense counsel are often in camps. There is a belief that being difficult in personal injury law is helpful to a client. For example, an attorney not turning over documents, not returning phone calls, or not showing up for a meeting” with opposing counsel.
Hertz, who is also a mediator, said he’s seen in his mediation work that “lots of commercial and personal injury attorneys are consistently inconsiderate.”
“They have a pattern of being unhelpful,” he said.
Explain to me how lying, cheating, being uncooperative, not being present, and being inconsiderate helps you, your professions reputation, and most importantly – YOUR CLIENT!
So why do some people feel they have to act uncivil:
“There is extensive discovery that is largely unnecessary by the defense in personal injury cases that had not been undertaken 20 or 30 years ago, and that inevitably delays the trial of a case,” said Reardon of The Reardon Law Firm. “Those delays cause frustration for the litigants, both plaintiff and defense, because they both want their cases to be over with.”
Reardon, an attorney for 49 years, said he’s seen an overall decline in civility within the profession, and that “the system, in its entirety, has become less civil.”
“The judiciary is more reluctant to enforce the rules regarding conduct of lawyers than they used to,” he said. “The principal reason is they are overwhelmed. Everyone involved in the discipline of lawyers is overwhelmed by the workload.”
“The judges are often unable to address discovery matters in a timely fashion, and that has caused lawyers to be frustrated and have acrimony,” Reardon said. “Judges are also overwhelmed. I’ve felt for a long time that judges are underpaid, and the judiciary is underpaid and understaffed.”
So basically, because everything takes so long issues fester, and people get frustrated. If my six year old said I was not nice because I was frustrated, I would not tolerate that behavior. If a criminal told the Judge, I was frustrated so I assaulted that woman, that probably would not go over well. However, because we as educated professionals get frustrated due to delays and discovery then we have an accepted excuse?
The Attorney Role
New London-based Geraghty & Bonnano attorney Mark Dubois, Connecticut’s former chief disciplinary counsel, says he’s seen this uncivil behavior from contentious attorneys up close. And it’s getting worse, he said.
“I think stress is a part of it. I also think the political climate reflects a coarsening of social discourse in many arenas,” Dubois said. “It used to be that a lawyer was a trusted guide and adviser, but now in many instances, they are just a service provider.”
Dubois continued: “I’ve been involved in the lawyer-discipline end for 16-plus years, and lawyers today are more likely to send angry letters or file complaints, instead of just picking up the phone and talking it out.”
The New Years Resolution for all – be civil and understanding. Your perspective is not the one that matters – no matter your profession. You are not important and you do not have a job because of who you are. God gave you your abilities to serve others. You make money by providing others a product or a service. Be civil to those you serve. Understand the person across from you is also serving their customers.
You don’t have to agree, but be willing to listen. Maybe if you listened, instead of fighting immediately you could resolve the issue and it would not take so long. If it did not take so long, then you would not grow so frustrated. In the New Year try doing what is best for your clients, your profession, and maybe you will see it is truly what is best for you also.