Dan Cotter
Pat Eckler

With the American Bar Association focusing on “Civics, Civility, and Collaboration” this year, we reflected on how we behave as media partners — and why civility is the necessary foundation of the conversations about the law that we want to convene.

We address plenty of matters of dispute in our roles co-hosting the “Podium and Panel Podcast” and writing columns for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. We select cases that raise thorny issues in Illinois, Indiana, the 7th Circuit and at the Supreme Court level. Whether it’s national issues like abortion or free speech or Illinois cases on BIPA or the legislature following the constitutional requirements for enacting a bill, readers or listeners may not agree with our takes on the cases or the behavior of the litigants.

There’s no shortage of things to disagree on — but we choose to tackle those issues with civility and collaboration as guideposts. We tend to ensure both of us have equal time. At times, we will defer to the person most passionate on a particular topic or most knowledgeable.

Our goal as communicators is to provide information and perspective on what is happening in the legal arena. Both of us were trained from the beginning that effective practitioners need not be incivil or posture, but that knowing the law and the facts matters in providing legal services. We aim not to alienate listeners or readers, but to have an engaging dialogue with-out being contentious or argumentative.

With our discussions of courtroom presence, mistakes, mishaps and instances where incivility are demonstrated, we talk about it and point out some ways to perhaps do things better. We don’t attack, but we do point out things that will make the advocates better and approach their jobs with civility.

Social media on any platform is fraught with trollers and those who want to reiterate their views. We engage in robust but civil debate on LinkedIn by posting views and responding to those who chime in, but we avoid full “nuclear interactions” where someone has an ax to grind. That behavior would alienate some in our audience. But it’s also just not worth the time and energy.

In more than one instance, we have covered cases where an advocate, generally for the appellant, will attack the trial court judge. This is not civil and it does not go well for the person attacking. On a lighter note, some judges have preferences, readily known, that attorneys can follow to make things run smoother in their courtrooms. (Word to the wise: Don’t use acronyms if you are in the 7th Circuit before Judge Frank H. Easterbrook. Avoid intensifiers — “clunky, disconcerting, and, typically, hyperbolic” — before 1st District Appellate Court Justice Michael B. Hyman.)

Also, we’ve learned, dot your i’s and cross your t’s. It is a common theme on the podcast that the underlying record is not perfected for purposes of appeal. This is never good. Some teams embed appellate lawyers in trials. Not a bad idea; appellate lawyers know these things. Know the rules and understand them. It is good advocacy and makes for good interactions with opposing counsel.

Sometimes, with people you're going to have to see again — next week, next show or next trial — it pays to focus on the relationship over winning points.

Pat Eckler and Dan Cotter co-host “The Podium and Panel Podcast” and are regular contributors to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.