Being a recent import to the Ontario Bar from Nova Scotia, one of the most substantial changes and challenges that I have encountered is the lack of civility between legal colleagues.
On a daily basis, I am astounded by the lack of professional courtesy between lawyers.
In Nova Scotia, one thing we pride ourselves on is professional courtesy and civility. We can fight hard in court, and still see each other at a function outside of court and not have any awkwardness.
Here are 5 tips to ensure that you are not caught in the slippery slope of incivility.
1. There are rules about this! When we are in everyday practice, we sometimes forget about the Rules of Professional Conduct, and they specifically state that lawyers have a duty to behave in a courteous, professional, and civil manner when dealing with other lawyers, staff, and other professionals while carrying out the administration of justice. (Rule 7.2 – Rules of Professional Conduct). Communicating or conducting sharp practice are all valid complaints and could lead to sanctions as per the Rules.
2. Do not get emotionally involved in your cases. It is one thing to personally invest in your client’s position, their case, their story. It is completely another thing to be emotionally involved.
When you are emotionally involved it is much easier to take the opposition’s remarks, strategy, and correspondence personally. It is very easy to respond quickly with an emotion-filled response letter to that lawyer. This actually hinders your client’s position than help it because it reveals to the other side where your client’s personal motivators are in the file. Any future negotiation will be marred with this letter that was sent when you were emotionally revved up. If you receive an awful letter, read it, set it aside for a day or so, think about their legal strategy and perspective, then respond in a calm professional, and polite manner.
3. You get what you give. If every one of your letters, emails or phone calls are heated, snarky, litigious, and all deserve solicitor-client costs, then you will receive the exact same manner of communication from opposing counsel. Not every request on behalf of your client requires a Motion or costs. Sometimes it may be easier and less litigious if you pick up the phone and find out why there is a delay. Maybe the lawyer is on vacation or short staffed. Maybe someone got married in the family and someone was not able to get to your request based on your timelines.
4. Your clients do not need “that” lawyer. When you have a consultation with a new client, I would be surprised if the client said, “I’ll pay extra if you are awful to the other lawyer!”. Most clients hire a lawyer because they are in a situation that requires your expertise, knowledge, and problem-solving skills to get them out of that situation.
When lawyers use sharp practice and rude correspondence and communication, it forces the other lawyer to step back and take more time to respond to that lawyer because quite simply, they do not want to deal with that person. This translates into a delay and lost money for the client. Also, when lawyers do not get along on a file, there is less chance for negotiations, and using alternative dispute resolution because the lawyer’s perspective is warped from the bad relations that they are having with opposing counsel. This also translates into a more lengthy and litigious process for the client. It is a disservice to the client to pay money for this.
5. Don’t change! Do not participate into the whirlwind of rudeness and lack of professionalism within the Bar. Being a lawyer remains a prestigious and respected professions in today’s society, and damaging the profession with a reputation of adversaries for hire does not provide any benefit to the practice or the profession.
Stand your ground and lead by example in your own practice.