It doesn’t take a keen cultural observer to note that our society and the public discourse are becoming increasingly less civil. Lawyers, who are often comfortable with confrontation and public speaking, often find themselves prominently reflecting this zeitgeist rather than resisting it. This is understandable. Being a lawyer doesn’t automatically confer on us some immunity to the forces and trends happening around us. We are as prone as anyone to feel the frustrations of our times, the isolating effects of technology and the instant gratification of expressing off-the-cuff reactions. But while we may not always act better, we do know better.
Civility in our profession is not some anachronistic ideal fading from relevance. It is a professional code of conduct we all agreed to follow when we decided to become lawyers because it makes us better lawyers. We are better advocates and better counselors when we are civil to one another. We increase the value of our reputations and the number and quality of our professional opportunities when we are thought of well by our peers. We’re also happier when we treat others well, and they treat us well in return. Civility is, in short, good for us, good for our clients and good for our profession. And because lawyers daily lay the bricks on which our society is built, our ability to work well with one another, and to provide an example to others, makes that society better as well, even in an adversarial system.
If this sounds like a hopeless cliché or a truism, remember that this is because the benefits of civility are self-evidently true. We knew all of this when we took the oath to become lawyers. We know it still. We just need to show it a bit more — to ourselves and others.