Be The Bigger Lawyer
Lawyer civility should be an inherent part of the legal profession. Some states even require every lawyer to take an oath that requires them abide by lessons they should have picked up in kindergarten. For the most part attorneys are able to act civil towards each other, but there are instances when certain behavioral lines are crossed and lawyers become aggressive. A small firm or solo may be more tempted to act out because they call the shots and there may be nobody in-house looking over their shoulder or there to call them out on their behavior. There are several ways to deal with or not participate in lawyer aggression
Do Not Hit Back
In football and many other sports, a common scenario plays out routinely week after week. After a play is over a player from one team says something offensive or lightly shoves a player on the opposing team. The player on the opposing team takes offense and escalates the situation by hitting back harder or even throwing a punch just in time for the referee to see the act and perceive it as unprovoked. Most often the referee calls a penalty on the second player that hits back even though they did not start it or were just responding in kind. The commentators announcing the game on TV usually use instant replay to trace back the instigator of the incident and lament how it was unfair that the first player did not get called for a penalty even though they may have been just as guilty. The fact still remains that the second player did something that violated the rules. The penalty called on the second player often comes at a pivotal point in the game and could potentially determine the outcome of the contest.
In the legal world, much like sports, lawyers and firms are matched up against each other in an adversarial process. The head to head contests between some lawyers usually occur many times over the years. All it takes is one contentious case to sour a relationship. In the legal world there are many referees that are always watching and are ready to call a penalty on you at any time. The most obvious referees would be a state bar disciplinary board or a judge, but of equal importance would be referees of reputation including the legal community and the general public. These referees do not care who started a war of words or that both lawyers were being equally uncivil towards each other. All that matters in the end is to the referee is that one lawyer did something uncivil or violated a rule. Referees of lawyers not only have the power to affect the outcome of cases, but to end careers.
It Is OK That Not Everyone Likes You
A small firm or any business that is successful and operating at a high level will most likely have as a natural consequence of its success a number of detractors, unhappy competitors, haters, and people that for whatever reason do not like that firm. There is nothing wrong with this inevitability and it must be accepted early on in the business process to keep the firm moving forward. Trying to convert or combat this subsection of non-fans may lead to situations that test civility and bring out the worst in any firm. A better strategy is to ignore or write off this group as an acceptable loss and keep focus on the things that continue to bring success to the firm. By giving any attention to detractors, a successful firm is brought down a level and distracted from their purpose and goals. By not trying to please all the people all of the time, more attention can be paid to those that do like a firm and providing them a higher level of service.
Maybe They Are Not The Problem
In the TV series, Justifed, the main character, Raylan Givens quotes an old saying that can be politely paraphrased as “If you run into a jerk in the morning, you ran into a jerk; you run into jerks all day, you’re the jerk”. If a lawyer is consistently drawing out aggression and incivility in other lawyers, then they may have to evaluate themselves and their own behavior. There may be something that a lawyer is unaware that they are regularly doing is causing unnecessary friction with others. A lawyer can find out if there are any triggers for aggression in others by simply asking other lawyers to be blunt and brutally honest about any potential flaws a lawyer may have. Making a small adjustment in behavior can have a big positive effect to prevent being involved in future civility problems.