Civility in the legal profession is always a hot topic these days. Conference speakers wax poetic about the virtues of a utopian profession where all lawyers bring each other flowers and never lose composure. The limiting factor is not, however, the adversarial process or the pressures from clients to “win.” The problem is our sorry, wretched and broken human nature. No matter what all your participation trophies at your parents’ house say, you ain’t perfect. And neither is the other guy. We forget, we misinterpret, we overanalyze and we sometimes get it flat wrong. Such is the condition of man. But before you descend into despair over the future of the free world, I propose a practical solution. Be nice to people and ask for help.
Humans are a cooperative species. The only reason we’re not still eating grass in the mountains is because we learned to work together. Conflict is hard wired to our DNA, but so is collaboration. I have been amazed in my practice how many opposing counsel are willing to help me work through difficult issues if I just ask for help. In almost every case, this winds up getting both sides a better result for less money, because we didn’t waste time bickering over things that don’t matter.
Like it or not, we lawyers are a transaction cost for business, and we only add value when we grease the wheels. No businesswoman sets out to pay lawyers, she desires to accomplish a result that adds value to her business. So ask yourself, as a percentage of the total value of this transaction, how much am I costing the client? Am I erecting barriers or facilitating progress?
Civility in the profession is not a trite ideal for hippies and professors–it is a practical tool for giving our clients the best result possible under the circumstances. One of my mentors put it this way, “success in the law requires only two things: return phone calls within 24 hours, and be nice to people.”