June 10, 2011

Lack of civility can lead to discipline

June 10, 2011

Lawyers reminded that courtesy is the first step to avoiding complaints

One of the most common complaints received about lawyers by the Law Society regards rudeness and incivility. The Canons of Legal Ethics require that a lawyer should treat adverse witnesses, litigants, and counsel with fairness and courtesy, refraining from all offensive personalities and personal remarks or references.

Simply put: You are unlikely to offend if you treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Incivility brings the profession into disrepute and disciplinary action has been imposed on lawyers who fail to exercise professional courtesy. Here are just a few of the things that have got lawyers in disciplinary trouble with the Law Society:

  • Name calling of opposing counsel and litigants
  • Use of condescending language
  • Rude, offensive comments both verbally and in writing
  • Making sexually derogatory and obscene remarks

Lawyers can reduce the risk of uncivil communications by keep in mind that there are two aspects of incivility – tone and content – and by following these practices:

  • Avoid the use of obscenities
  • Avoid the use of adjectives or adverbs in correspondence, particularly where they editorialize and do not add material content
  • Recognize when emotions of anger or frustration are present and avoiding communicating until those feelings have resolved
  • Have another lawyer review and edit letters before sending them
  • Adopt a practice in difficult matters of corresponding by letter and drafting the letter and waiting until the next day to review and edit it before sending

For more information, contact a Practice Advisor.