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.
This evening my wife and I went to dinner. It was a pleasant Southern California evening with the sun still shining. The wind was blowing but the gusts were significantly less than yesterday. We walked from our home. We decided to go to a sushi restaurant near our house. We were about 10 minutes early and waited outside for the door to be unlocked. The owner came to the door and was washing the door window from the inside; he then opened the door and washed the window from the outside. He said it would be a few minutes more. He then returned to the inside and locked the door. In the meantime, we were getting colder from the wind gusts. The noise of the door being locked clicked something in me. I looked at my wife and said, “How would you like Italian food? The other restaurant is just down the street.” That’s where we went and had a very nice dinner. The sushi restaurant owner could have let us inside, away from the wind gusts, even if the chef was not ready to serve. But, he didn’t; he thought only of himself, not of his customers. He could have said “hello, come inside.” But, he didn’t. I suspect he didn’t know or care that he lost business that night, and perhaps for the future. There are more sushi restaurants in the area.
What are you doing in your law firm that favors your wishes, your desires, your idiosyncrasies at the expense of your clients and prospective clients? As in the case of the sushi restaurant, most often you can accommodate the needs and wishes of the customer and yours at the same time. It certainly would not have caused any problem to let us into the restaurant to sit inside rather than outside. It certainly would not create a great burden to return clients’ phone calls promptly or educate the client about the process he is about to embark on … How much time would it take to ask about the client’s expectations or to tell the client about your expectations (like getting paid timely)? There are other lawyers who do understand their clients’ desires and expectations.
Take care to think about your client and what he expects and whether you fulfill those expectations.