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Civility in the Practice of Law: Just Do It!

Author: Dara R. Fairchild

Guest Editor: Amy Chambers

November 9, 2020 7:39pm

As officers of the court, attorneys have an obligation to be professional not just with our clients, but with opposing counsel, the court, and the public.  This is, of course, easier said than done when dealing with a difficult opposing counsel who does not apply civility to their own practice.  However, civility is a necessary component of being an attorney and the practice of law.

Taking the above into consideration, I asked Hon. Gail Ander (Ret.) and Hon. Jonathan Cannon (Ret.), two retired Orange County Superior Court Judges and practicing Mediators, for their advice for new attorneys regarding learning and practicing civility when interacting with opposing counsel, the court, and public.  The take-away from both was that it is expected, it is important, and to just do it!

Judge Andler advised that learning professionalism and civility will make an attorney “more effective as advocates because they will more likely get what they need, avoid unnecessary and costly litigation over issues which could have been negotiated by the exercise of civility and professionalism.” She also stressed that judges expect civility and, “most importantly, it is about reputation, the most important thing a lawyer has.”

Judge Cannon also stressed the importance professionalism and civility have on an attorney’s reputation, stating, “most lawyers will see each other several times during their careers and it just makes sense to be civil to one another.”

The above sentiments are echoed by the American Bar Association and other local Bar Associations that have developed their own guidelines on conduct, civility, and professionalism.  In general, from a review of the various guidelines, the consensus is that an attorney should:

  • Demonstrate civility to other counsel by communicating in a professional, businesslike manner;
  • Avoid personal attacks, demeaning comments, and misleading characterizations;
  • Extend professional courtesies (i.e. if that request for a discovery extension is reasonable, grant it);
  • Meet and confer with opposing counsel regarding deposition dates prior to noticing;
  • Behave professionally at depositions by avoiding abusive or rude behavior; and
  • Take the high road when dealing with abusive tactics by opposing counsel (this can be done while still acting as a zealous advocate).

The above list is not all encompassing, and there are many additional guidelines to consider.  The American Bar Association, for example, has 31 guidelines for interacting with opposing counsel, whereas the Orange County Bar Association has three (3) guidelines with subparts.  We encourage you to check your local Bar Association’s Civility guidelines and put them into practice because civility is expected, is important, and attorneys (new and old) should just do it!

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