Humans are social beings. We thrive in an atmosphere of mutual respect and concern for others. Our greatest achievements have come to fruition through the cooperative efforts of the whole for a common purpose.
One such achievement is the Civil Justice System. When we, as individuals suffer harm, through the negligence of another, we have access to a remedy by virtue of the Civil Justice System. Judges stand ready to administer our grievances, lawyers stand ready to advocate on our behalf and thousands of dedicated Court staffers stand ready to help in any way they can. We are invited into a hallowed chamber. We present our grievance in civil language and in respectful tones. We defend ourselves with zealousness, knowing that we have the right to require the complaining party to prove that which they assert. In the end, a resolution, whether by agreement or judgment, is reached. Though not all will be perfectly happy with the resolution, we accept it as binding. We accept resolution as part of the social contract which binds us together.
We, as Lawyers and Judges, bear a great responsibility to convey a sense of confidence in the Civil Justice System. We have no ability to force citizens to accept the results issued by tribunals of the Civil Justice System. Our greatest ally in the defense of the Civil Justice System is the confidence of the citizens in the integrity of the system. Lawyers are not merely advocates, and Judges are not merely arbiters. We are the emissaries of the system. Every time the citizenry encounters a judge or a lawyer, whether within or without the system, impressions are being formed. Those impressions can be imbued with confidence or scarred with skepticism. We are the most prominent actors in the play.
David Ball has often been heard to say that a play is about what it spends most of its time being about. If our part in this play is about confidence, then collegiality is the common theme. Collegiality must be cultivated and taught to our young lawyers. It must be discussed openly, with an eye toward increasing its influence. Though litigation is often adversarial, we may not allow ourselves to be carried away so as to blur the lines of civility. Effective advocacy and collegiality are not mutually exclusive. More to the truth, they are co-dependent.
Young lawyers must be guided in their pursuit of becoming an effective advocate. Effective guidance includes discussions about the basic principles of courtesy, civility and honesty. However, words alone cannot take the place of example.
Consider addressing the Court. Words of respect convey the austerity and importance of the proceedings and instill respect for the Judge.
Consider the Court addressing a litigant. Respect conveys that the Court understands the concerns of the litigants. Understanding instills confidence in the system by the litigants, but also teaches the young lawyer that litigants are first and foremost citizens who deserve respect.
Consider addressing opposing counsel. Young lawyers will eagerly watch for clues on how to conduct their independent interaction with opposing counsel. They will absorb the lesson that open discourse and collegial conduct are highly effective at furthering the interests of their clients. Young lawyers will recognize that sometimes parties cannot agree, but that disagreement does not have to be reached with heated words and disrespectful conduct.
Consider addressing the litigant. Simply returning a phone call conveys respect and is highly effective in teaching that the client’s interest is the most important aspect of the Civil Justice System. The client deserves respect and respect delivered instills confidence. Respect in language with, and treatment of, the opposing litigant emphasizes that simply because there is a disagreement, does not mean the litigant is less a human being. Ultimately, this sense of respect between the advocate and the opposing litigant encourages discussion among the parties in the hopes of reaching a resolution. If resolution is elusive and the matter is tried to judgment, the litigants’ confidence in the Civil Justice System is strengthened.
Consider candor among the participants of the litigation. Seeking the truth requires that the truth be told. Honesty with the tribunal, opposing counsel and litigants affirms not only the purpose of the Civil Justice System, but the confidence of the citizenry in the system.
A culture of collegiality plays as vital a role in the Civil Justice System as pleadings practice, discovery, motions practice and trial work. It must be a part of every young lawyer’s education. That education starts with the examples we set.