Lawyers appreciate civility among their peers. Too many lawyers see the practice of law as a call to arms rather than as a quest for conciliation. They put the art of the battle before the pursuit of peace. They carry their battle-readiness to extreme ends, mining acrimony out of the simplest requests. Litigators, in particular, see themselves as warriors and their opposing counsel as adversaries to be belittled and crushed.
What these gladiators-at-law forget is that we represent clients, not ourselves. When the fighting is over, our clients’ lives must go on. Often, those very clients who face each other in the courtroom or at the negotiating table will continue to deal with each other long after the legal proceedings are over, whether as business operators or as neighbors.
Our role as lawyers should be to achieve the best result for our clients, not make a show of our one-upmanship over each other. In the majority of cases, the best result for the client is not achieved through an all-out, no-holds-barred battle. To the contrary, the best result — whether your client is a business or an individual — is most often achieved somewhere short of contentious litigation, through mediation and conciliation.
My training in arbitration and mediation was nurtured in the field of labor-management relations. Unions and management have their share of differences. But they also understand that when the dispute is over, they will have to continue to work together. This knowledge tempers their approach to dispute resolution. They understand that a dispute resolved on their own terms through mutual agreement will be far easier to live with over time than one resolved by a third-party judge or arbitrator.
Lawyers should take this approach in cases of every kind. It’s not about gamesmanship. It’s about helping your clients achieve a fair result that they will be able to live with and work with for the longer term. Among lawyers, the first step towards achieving fair results for your clients is to treat your peers in the same way — with fairness and civility.