The field of law isn’t known for participation trophies or warm hugs, but there are some good reasons why you should make an extra effort to practice kindness in a profession where adversarialism is the name of the game.
Here are five reasons why you should be nice to opposing counsel:
Being rude is against the rules. Seriously.
Many states have set standards for how attorneys should treat opposing counsel. Under the Florida Bar Creed of Professionalism, for example, lawyers are required to avoid antagonistic and acrimonious behavior. This includes vulgar language and disparaging remarks. Alabama requires that lawyers maintain a “cordial” and “respectful” relationship with opposing counsel. Massachusetts requires that their attorneys not create any “unnecessary animosity” with opposing counsel.
Your health depends on it.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”? It’s true. Try to remember the last time you lost your temper or were rude to someone. Do you feel good about it? Probably not. And it’s not just a bad feeling you get. Negative attitudes can actually create chronic stress, which has a chemical effect on the human brain and immune system, depleting the body of the chemicals required for happiness. On the other hand, studies have found that being the one on the receiving end of rude behavior hurts one’s ability to perform complex tasks requiring creativity and memory recall.
Clients come and go, but you’ll still have each other.
Clients need you as long as they have a problem for you to solve, and then you part ways. However, you have a career ahead of you among a very small community of local lawyers—lawyers who will remember that email you sent on the last case you were on together.
Also, keep in mind that you’re going to need an extension (or two or three.) Maybe you’ll need to schedule a deposition or maybe you’ll need to reschedule a trial date around your vacation. It will save you time and stress if you’re able to work with opposing counsel. What’s more, if opposing counsel ever needs to refer work to another lawyer for whatever reason, you can be pretty sure he’s not going to choose the lawyer who was a jerk to him.
Judges know if you’re naughty or nice
Speaking of a tight-knit community, judges aren’t oblivious to the world around them. Just like in high school, if you have a reputation, word will spread quickly.
Being nice lowers costs for all parties.
When lawyers can agree on rescheduling and extensions, it lowers the cost for the clients. Of course, this isn’t great for you in the short term. However, it can be very good for you in the long term when your clients realize you’re not just looking out for your own wallet. In other words, happy clients means repeat business (and referrals!)
Bottom line: It is possible to do your job without insulting your opposing counsel. They are people too, even if their case has no merit and you intend to show that to the jury.
Berkley Sweetapple Vitale is an attorney at Sweetapple Broeker & Varkas in Boca Raton, FL. She is the author of the law and lifestyle blog Lady J. Berkley lives in Boynton Beach with her law school sweetheart, 8-month-old son, and yellow Labrador Retriever.