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.