The conduct of lawyers, not just litigators, continues to go “south.” Why is this? Have the teachings of our mothers and fathers gone unheeded? Or, in this more litigious world, and the greater incidence of divorce (most of which is with great conflict), do manners, good taste and just plain “niceness” go out the window?
For many years, bar associations have been wringing their hands over how to improve the reputation of the legal community. Clearly, the lack of civil behavior does nothing to enhance our profession’s reputation or regard from among the lay public.
Recently, the State Bar of California modified the lawyer’s oath of office. It is a court rule (9.4), not a rule of professional conduct. And, there does not seem to be any consequences to a violation of the new oath that does not already exist with the judge in a given matter. The language, specifically, includes the words “dignity, courtesy and integrity.” As it stands now, this seems to be a subjective standard and does not increase the power of the court to impose sanctions on any lawyer activity.
When California Chrome did not win the Belmont Stakes this last weekend, its owner went berserk and complained that the race was not fair. He suggested that all horses run under the same rules. In other words, any horse eligible for the Triple Crown should be run in all three races, the Kentucky Derby, the the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Taken in the abstract, his criticism might be correct. The point, however, is where and how he said it. In other words, he didn’t play by the “rules” of genteel civility.
There may be other reasons why California Chrome did not win at Belmont. One such reason is that he appears to have stumbled coming out of the gate, injuring himself; another, his post position was not to the liking of his team. Whatever other reasons there may be, the ultimate conclusion is that California Chrome ran three races to the single race of the winner of Belmont. The words of the owner will be an asterisk or afterthought to the history of this horse. And, if the rules of horse racing are modified in the future, perhaps his outburst was appropriate.
When lawyers are uncivil, or lack civility, in dealing with one another, no one receives a benefit. Lack of civility is not seen as a strength, but merely as an annoyance. Civility does not make one weak. Nor, in most instances, do our clients appreciate the added expense that oftentimes results from having to overcome one’s adversaries’ lack of civility. Yes, there is a difference between horse racing and the practice of law. But, in both scenarios, as my mother used to say, “one can get more with honey than with vinegar.” Equally important for lawyers, our clients do not believe this is better lawyering. On the contrary, they tend to disrespect us for not being civil and causing them increased expense.