I attended a CLE on ethics and civility among civil litigators. By far, the most shocking part was the guy in front of me clipping his nails during presentations.
That aside, a common theme was that civility between lawyers continues to erode. For the most part, the panel felt that younger attorneys were more likely to go off the deep end. If you are a young attorney (I am currently raising my hand), here are some tips for keeping your cool.
Bring it down a notch
When something does not go according to plan, do not fly off the handle. For example, opposing counsel never responds to an e-mail inquiry or perhaps disregards discovery altogether.
It is easy to call up opposing counsel and rant about how they are required to respond or that you are going to bring a motion to compel. It is also realistic that opposing counsel has a valid reason for non-action.
Wait until you have all your facts before you do something you might regret.
Avoid e-mail when possible
If you need to discuss something, call opposing counsel. Do not send a twelve paragraph e-mail. It can be impossible to interpret the intended tone in e-mails. On the flip side, it is easy to misinterpret tone and put a negative spin on things.
On my first couple of cases I hated phone calls. I felt like my inexperience was oozing through the handset. After a few calls, however, I realized that it helped me get a much better feel for what opposing counsel was like, which made working with them a whole lot easier.
Try and meet face to face
It takes time to meet opposing counsel for coffee or lunch at their office, but it is time well spent. Phone calls are superior to e-mail and face-face is even better than phone calls.
E-mail makes it too easy to de-humanize the other person—which makes it easy to forget manners. Meeting people face-face will make you remember you are dealing with a person. You do not have to become best friends, but it can make adversarial relationships a lot less stressful and contentious.
You are likely to encounter opposing counsel more than once. Rather than start World War III, make an effort to develop a working relationship. Hopefully, it will make future interactions less contentious.