Mind Your Manners In Legal Arenas

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On my way to teaching class today I found myself walking behind someone I knew, but I could not remember who they were.

Being the Midwesterner that I am, I held the door open for an individual and as they walked by, I recognized them as a member of the judiciary that I have appeared before.

Having good manners is important no matter what, but be especially mindful around legal arenas.

You never know who is watching

Change the above scenario and say I was running late for my class. Instead of holding the door open, I could have quickly opened it darted through, letting it close in the person’s face.

Little things like that can make a difference on how people perceive you. That applies not only to judges, but members of the court administration, law school staff, and other legal professionals.

The legal community is small

If opposing counsel is driving you nuts, take a deep breath and reign in your emotions. It might feel great to rip into them now that this case is over. But you will probably see them again and your need to unleash will likely be remembered.

Same thing with professors and members of court administration. Professors have been known to become judges. Suddenly, sending nasty emails to your former professor about why you deserved an A instead of an A- seem rather petty.

Court administration and law clerks should always be treated with the utmost respect. With law clerks, whatever you tell them is likely to go straight to the judge. With that in mind, pretend like talking to the clerk is just like talking to the judge.

This may seem like common sense, but many lawyers to forget common courtesies when interacting with others.

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  • Paul Gormley

    I cannot agree with this more – as a profession that is trained to represent the interests of others, we can never ignore the result that our positive demonstration or complete lack of courtesy, manners, or professionalism may trigger. I am unfailingly polite to our local court staff and it has paid off in files being moved to the top of a list, paperwork moved ahead in line, and countless other favors that put someone else at a potential disadvantage. It is not the substantive due process or justice issue, it’s the pacing and practical aspects that we will see first. The substantive issues will arise later.

  • Ditto. Always be nice to court personnel, other lawyers, etc. There are ways to be a strong advocate without being a jerk. I have gotten more than one referral from a lawyer previously on the other side of a case that I am sure I would not have received without being polite.

  • Mike Woodson

    This is important advice not only because of actual impact, but because of uncertainty about whether there has been an impact because of our rudeness and or unkindness. The nagging thought that someone may have witnessed our boorishness or lack of charity is enough to create subconscious doubt or worry associated with that person and his or her network. That said, it is also true that few could judge us without falling into hypocrisy; we’d be unwise to give too much power to our self-prosecution over isolated incidents or excessive judgment of same.

    Nearly everyone has failed at some point of etiquette under the time constraints and pressures of the practice of law. Perhaps there is the salve, when we show understanding for someone else who slips while amending our own as much as is possible and judicious.

    Ultimately, judges are the worst audience for our errors, however, they are human too. Unless they were themselves acting unprofessionally, judges would not likely penalize a client in their courtroom merely because of the lawyer’s remembered social wrong. Of course, the lawyer would be foolish not to be utterly professional and deferential in the next case before that judge.

    The gist of the principal article emphasizes prevention. However, what if it’s too late? Should a lawyer who knows a judge has witnessed his or her social foolishness or rudeness inform the client of it and offer to move to withdraw from representation before that judge in that matter? It seems it would depend which course would prejudice the client more. And if that judge had the power to refuse an attorney’s motion for withdrawal, what then? Here is where knowing the judge or consulting with a lawyer who does would best serve one’s client: to find out more about the judge’s likely behavior in view of her history.