"Can't We All Just Get Along?"

by Ed Poll

Rodney King asked years ago, "Can't we all just get along?" That question is particularly relevant to the legal profession - not because lawyers are supposed to resolve disputes, but because they far too often cause or worsen them.

In recent years many state and local bar associations have adopted voluntary standards that attempt to discourage "unprofessional conduct" and encourage "civility" for lawyers. The commentary on ABA Rule of Professional Conduct states that "[t]he lawyer's duty to act with reasonable diligence does not require the use of offensive tactics or preclude the treating of all persons involved in the legal process with courtesy and respect." The Canadian Bar Association's Code of Professional Conduct (Rule IX, chapter 16) says: "The lawyer should at all times be courteous, civil ... A consistent pattern of rude, provocative or disruptive conduct by the lawyer, even though not punished as contempt, might well merit disciplinary action."

Why is this issue even a matter of discussion or a problem in our profession? Why do some of us feel the need to be rude and obnoxious to our adversaries? Do we truly believe that such conduct will win us points or cause our client's position to be moved forward? On the contrary, such behavior often merely entrenches the opposition further. Being civil - just "getting along" - is the most practical choice. Our current situation in Washington, DC is ample evidence that unreasoning aggressiveness in pursuing a fixed agenda, regardless of the human or financial consequences, is inevitably disastrous. As my mother used to say, "You get more with honey than with vinegar."

Civility has other ramifications. Responding to a disciplinary complaint, whether made by a client or opposing counsel, is not a cost that a law firm or lawyer can pass on. Dealing with the motions and sanctions involved in a disciplinary complaint directly and negatively affects the lawyer's bottom line. Consider, too, what happens in a law firm with civility issues. Piled on top of the anxiety of client demands and economic pressures, lawyers can be so focused on the task at hand and getting results that they leave little room for camaraderie and support, creating anger and hostility An angry law firm is one doomed to failure.

In the practice of law, we should never forget that we are dealing with human lives. Our goals should be to bring a sense of order to troubled situations, not to create new ones. The law cannot be a profession unless we, ourselves, maintain professionalism.

© Copyright 2013. Edward Poll. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Edward Poll. Reprinted from the December 24, 2013 issue of LawBiz Tips Newsletter.

About The Author

Ed Poll principal of LawBiz Management Company, is a nationally recognized coach, law firm management consultant, and author who has coached and consulted with lawyers and law firms in strategic planning, profitability analysis, and practice development. Mr. Poll has practiced law on all sides of the table for 25 years-- as a corporate general counsel, government prosecutor, sole practitioner, partner, and law firm chief operating officer and been a consultant to small and large law firms for 20 years.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.