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Civility is Good Enough

The other day I was accused by opposing counsel of sending a "rude" and "condescending" email.

The other side hadn't done something it should have done about preparing settlement pleadings. I asked that the documents be revised.

Looking back at the original message, it was certainly not cordial. There was nothing warm and fuzzy about it. However, it was hardly rude or condescending. It simply pointed out the situation and asked that it be addressed. The message was a civil one.

We hear a lot about lawyer "collegiality" and "professionalism" these days. Attorneys are chided - often with good reason - for gratuitously bad conduct. Yet, just because someone is on the other side of a case does not magically make that person your friend - and there is no reason to pretend like they are.

Most of us practice in relatively small worlds. We are often acquainted with those on the other side. That was certainly true in my situation. The lawyer who took issue with my email is well known to me. To say he is not my friend is an understatement.

Please don't get me wrong. Civility in our business is always very important. There is no reason to be nasty or to make personal attacks. Even when we are rightfully unhappy with the conduct of the other side, we need to be careful to express that dissatisfaction in a measured and businesslike way.

There are many lawyers on the other side with whom I have had friendly dealings for years. Some of them I consider to be personal friends. My dealings with them are going to be different than my dealings with attorneys I don't know or, especially, opposing counsel I do know but for whom I have little respect.

Does that make me un-collegial?

If not engaging in faux chumminess is a deficiency in my practice style as a lawyer, so be it. I have better things about which to worry.

Civility is good enough for me.


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