ICLEF Law Tips: Civility

Reference for this ICLEF Law Tip on “Civility” is the opening presentation of the 2011 Applied Professionalism seminar, “Maintaining Civility (and Sanity!) at All Times”, by: Carol M. Adinamis, Michele S. Bryant, Paul A. Leonard, Jr., and Derrick H. Wilson.

“Reputations are made very quickly and change very slowly” is a reminder provided by ICLEF speaker Derrick Wilson in his presentation during the  2011 Applied Professionalism seminar. This comment, perhaps, sums up the practical advice provided by the panel of speakers during the segment on “Maintaining Civility.”   As a foundation for their presentation the panel referred to the Standards for Professional Conduct within the Seventh Federal Judicial Circuit Preamble that begins:

A Lawyer’s conduct should be characterized at all times by personal courtesy and professional integrity in the fullest sense of those terms.  In fulfilling our duty to represent a client vigorously as lawyers, we will be mindful of our obligations to the administration of justice, which is a truth-seeking process designed to resolve human and societal problems in a rational, peaceful, and efficient manner.”

With this tenet in mind, there is an expectation that opposing counsel will treat each other, their clients and the court with respect. But, in the case when a lawyer might act inappropriately, our speakers gave “Hints for Dealing with Incivility.”   Following is a portion of their advice:

What if the opposing counsel is being abusive or otherwise acting inappropriately to you in person outside of court?
1.     Stay calm.
2.     Let the other attorney rant for a bit as long as it doesn’t get insulting.
3.     Acknowledge to the other attorney that the matter is a difficult one but state that the dispute is between the clients and you would not like to affect the civil relationship between the two of you.
4.     Advise the lawyer that it would be best if you finished the conversation at another time and end the conversation.

“What if opposing counsel won’t respond to you?
1.     Document each time you attempt to communicate.
2.     Try communicating in different ways.
3.     Speak to the attorney’s legal assistant paralegal or managing partner.
4.     If you are in litigation, file the appropriate documents.
5.     Keep your client informed about your attempts to communicate with opposing counsel.
6.     If it continues, consider whether it’s appropriate to report the conduct to the Disciplinary Commission.

“What if you are in a deposition and opposing counsel is acting inappropriately?
1.     Stay calm.
2.     Let it be nown to the other attorney on the record that you think the behavior is inappropriate.
3.     Make any appropriate objections for the record.
4.     End the deposition if the behavior continues.

The speakers on civility also presented examples of specific scenarios, details of attorney disciplinary actions and their personal advice on maintaining civility and netiquette.  For instance, in relation to email, a tip entitled “consider the tone,” reminded lawyers to step back and consider that someone’s  message could be misconstrued since the tone of a person’s comments in email might be vague.   Sometimes it pays to confirm the intention of the person sending the email before reacting.

Overall, the educational session on “Maintaining Civility” points out that civility in the practice of law does take effort, but has many practical benefits for both the clients and the lawyers. If you would like to consult the CLE materials for the Applied Professionalism seminar, they are available on the ICLEF website by Clicking Here.

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