Medina County Courthouse

Friday, December 01, 2006

"We're Killing Each Other Off"

This last week I took part in a continuing legal education seminar sponsored by the Medina law firm of Walker and Jocke. I spoke on professionalism. During the discussion one of the lawyers present made the following observation about the decline of professionalism among attorneys: "We're killing each other off." What he meant by that was when lawyers act in an unprofessional manner toward each other and non-lawyers observe such interaction respect for the legal profession is diminished.

All of us who are lawyers and judges have seen lawyers be rude, boorish, and sometimes downright mean to each other. Often lawyers seem to believe that such behavior is necessary to prove their effectiveness to their clients or to intimidate opposing attorneys into settling cases. They never seem to think about the effect of such behavior on non-attorneys who are observing such behavior. Or, if they do think about it, they don't care enough to change their behavior.

This behavior is not common to all professions. You don't see doctors acting this way toward each other, or accountants, or professors, at least not in public. Such behavior seems peculiar to attorneys and perhaps political consultants.

One reason is that unlike other professions, law, and especially litigation, is inherently competitive. The adversarial system of justice pits lawyers against each other in the belief that out of the mix will emerge the truth. The adversarial system, however, doesn't mean that lawyers have to act uncivilly toward each other.

In the course of getting ready for my presentation I informally surveyed attorneys regarding conduct they saw as unprofessional. Examples they gave including yelling at opposing counsel, being rude during hearings and depositions, snatching papers from other attorneys' hands during depositions, and misrepresenting facts to a judge to gain an advantage. Such behavior does nothing to convey an image of professionalism to others, especially non-attorneys.

If you are an attorney and you are interacting with others, treat them the way you would want to be treated yourself. That is probably advice your Mom gave you when you were growing up, and it still works today.

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