Several months ago a judge took several lawyers to task about not cooperating with each other and instructed them to “talk to [each other] like human beings” and to not send nasty letters back and forth to each other, etc. I listened, somewhat bemused, at this veteran-trial-attorney-turned-judge lecturing lawyers about being civil to each other. “What profession does he think he’s talking to, anyway?” I thought as I left the courtroom, “that is how civil litigators are.” I should know. I’ve been a litigator and trial attorney in courts throughout the country for the past 15 years. Civil litigation is entirely uncivil almost all the time, and if you don’t have a thick skin, you should go do transactional work.
Actually, the attorney interaction that the judge was complaining about that day (yes, as you may have guessed, I was one of the lectured attorneys) was quite mild compared to conduct I see on a regular basis. Ruffled feathers compared to the more common assault with deadly words and threats. And the judge seemed to be directing his comments at opposing counsel mostly, just including me to be even-handed about the whole lecture.
I thought I could dismiss the matter from my mind and move on to other things, but his lecture stayed with me. Why is it that I had grown to accept unprofessional, rude, and sometimes insulting or even threatening conduct from other attorneys, as the accepted norm in my profession? Why is it that courtrooms are guaranteed to be bloody battlefields where only the sturdiest souls can survive the daily combat? When I was sworn in as a lawyer, did I agree to such an obvious perversion of justice?
I have been a litigator and trial lawyer for a long time now, almost long enough to lose my soul to a system that is insane in so many ways. It is not too late, however, for me to reevaluate how I practice law, and reevaluate how the entire legal system and legal profession operates. Reevaluation, however, is useless without corresponding change. Over the next year I will be blogging periodically about the legal industry, evaluating its flaws, proposing solutions, and drawing on the strength of other lawyers that have also committed to a change in this industry. I will be working for change in my sphere of influence and encourage all of my readers to do the same. Together we can be an unstoppable force for change!
– Melody Kramer