November 24, 2014

Resolve to Be More Civil

becky_byeBy Becky Bye

October is a bit of a new year for attorneys. The month marks a time when the Colorado bar admits hundreds of new attorneys, wide-eyed and anxious to begin practicing law. It is also a time where many law firms and other entities hire new attorneys to allow more senior attorneys to eventually transition out to retirement or other opportunities beyond their current practice.

I suggest, given that this is a time for new beginnings for all attorneys, that all attorneys also assess their practice and make some professional resolutions. One resolution I propose is for attorneys to practice with more civility and add camaraderie to their everyday practice.

The inherent adversarial nature surrounding the practice of law can easily polarize opposing counsel, opposing parties, and other people involved in any legal matter, whether it be a transactional matter or in the course of litigation. Many unfortunately interpret the language that “… a lawyer must act … with zeal in advocacy upon a client’s behalf…” to include unwarranted viciousness toward the opposing counsel, opposing parties, and even attorneys’ own office colleagues and peers. Subsequently, any negativity that results in the course of practicing law can create a negative perception of attorneys by the public and help trigger a general lack of civility within the practice of law.

Over the course of my legal career (which is relatively short in comparison to many others out there), I have often heard people complaining about how mean attorneys can be to each other. I also have heard more senior attorneys lamenting about their observations of newer attorneys being rude and unprofessional. In sum, many attorneys do not take the privilege of practicing law seriously.

Many of these attorneys believe that they cannot reconcile advocacy and respect with getting along with the opposing counsel, or even common decency. However, I beg to differ based on my own observations. All of the most respected legal minds of the Denver community and lawyers known nationally have several things in common. Of course, they were excellent, smart, and diligent legal scholars, but they also were known for their professionalism in all of their interactions.

Additionally, when I recently received the honor of an American Inns of Court Pegasus Scholarship, I was able to witness barristers (masters of the art of “advocacy” on behalf of clients in the United Kingdom) for six weeks in England. One of my foremost observations from this experience, which still resonates with me today, is that in spite of being known for their advocacy and legal eloquence, the barristers, even on opposing sides of a legal matter, worked together to the point where they coordinated a case before a tribunal. I was shocked when I attended breakfasts, lunches, and other meetings, between barristers of opposing parties, to discuss the next chain of events in their trial or hearing and what types of questions they would be asking their witnesses. In the courtrooms themselves, the barristers were pleasant and displayed a substantial amount of fellowship toward each other. It was soon very clear that this was the most effective way to represent clients, as courts and parties in legal proceedings were not bogged down in an unproductive exchange of communications with the intention of bullying the other party. The parties and courts could cut through that superfluous, tangential aspect of legal representation to get to the real issues at hand.

Although I understand the British legal system differs from ours in many respects, and not all aspects of it translate over to our legal system, all attorneys can still learn from trying to resolve small issues among attorneys in a courteous, respectable way. When things get too heated between opposing attorneys, ego and anger can unfortunately drive a case to go in the wrong direction, which is ultimately detrimental for clients and the legal system as a whole.

One of Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary definitions for “professional” is “exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.” I urge you to take this definition to heart as a legal professional, and to conscientiously resolve to be sincerely courteous to everyone you encounter.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of The Docket.

Becky Bye is a public attorney. She received her J.D. from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law in 2005. Bye is actively involved in the legal community, including serving on the University of Denver Law’s Alumni Council and the DBA Docket Committee. She is a past chair of the CBA Young Lawyers Division. Bye may be reached at beckybye@gmail.com. 

Becky Bye: 2012 Pegasus Scholarship Exchange Program in the English Legal System

Last year, I applied for, and was selected as a Pegasus Scholar for 2012 by the American Inns of Court. I encourage you to find out more information about the American Inns of Court by browsing the material on their website. Generally, the American Inns of Court oversees and supports local Inns throughout the country. These Inns contain judges, lawyers, law professors and law students who meet approximately once per month to discuss professionalism, ethics, and to mentor. Each Inn is subdivided into “pupilage groups” which are smaller groups that typically have one judge, several senior attorneys, several junior attorneys, and several attorneys. These groups also gather outside of the more formal once-per-month Inn meetings, and each group is responsible for one of the monthly programs presented to the Inn.

The American Inns of Courts are loosely based on the mentoring structure within the UK legal system for Barristers. As I understand (and I will certainly learn more about this when I go to London), aspiring Barristers must shadow or apprentice with Barristers, have dinners with them, and work with them until the Barristers are satisfied about their knowledge about the profession. When they are satisfied, that apprentice is “called to the Bar” and admitted to practice as a Barristers. (Note: Barristers wear wigs and practice in front of judges; Solicitors are attorneys that do not practice before judges but work with Barristers when their client must go to court).

The American Inns of Court sponsors the Pegasus Scholarship which allows two young lawyers who have a few years of experience to go to the UK for approximately six weeks (and in exchange, two young Barristers from the UK travel to the US). During the six weeks, the US attorneys work with different Barristers and learn about their legal system and all of its nuances. This experience includes watching oral arguments, engaging in legal research, eating dinner with the Inner Temple Inn in London, and visiting Barristers in Edinburgh, Dublin, and Belfast, amongst many other priceless opportunities.

Since my second year of law school in 2003, I have been a member of the William E. Doyle Inn of Court. Joining my Inn has been one of the best and most satisfying decisions I ever made. Over the years, I established numerous mentoring, professional, and personal relationships with judges, lawyers, and law students. I can talk to people within my Inn openly about any questions I might have about a sensitive issue or discuss any trials or tribulations. I can always turn to someone for more mentorship or guidance and feel that others know they can turn to me about any questions they have about the legal profession, jobs, and handling situations tactfully.

One of the attorneys I initially met, who has served as my mentor and confidant, received the Pegasus Scholarship in the 1990s. He constantly spoke highly of the experience and indicated that it might have been one of the best, most educational experiences of his life. Having studied abroad in college, I understood that this was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience.

I always kept the Pegasus Scholarship at the forefront of my mind, but the time never seemed right between job obligations, professional obligations, and weddings. Luckily, in 2012 everything came together to allow me to immerse myself in this scholarship (and luckily, I was selected as one of two people to receive it!). My fellow scholar is John DeStefano, whom I have not yet met except via phone and email.

You can read more about our bios and announcements by clicking here, and for more information about the scholarship and a link to a PDF brochure, please click here.

One of the reasons why I’ll be writing these blog posts, besides memorializing this unique opportunity for myself, is to allow others to experience this journey with me. As such, please post in comments section below any questions or topics you would like me to explore about the UK (and Irish) legal system, the Inns of Court, mentoring, the UK government system, or any other questions you have. I will post them on the blog or write back to you directly.

I leave for London on February 17, 2012 and arrive back in the United States on April 1, 2012. I’m crossing my fingers for decent weather!

Becky Bye is an attorney in the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in Golden, Colorado, where she practices in various areas of law, including environmental, administrative, and labor law. She received her J.D. from the University of Denver Strum College of Law and served as a chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the Colorado Bar Association from 2010–2011. She has started a blog to document her experience abroad, where this post originally appeared.