The preamble to the Standards for Professional Conduct within the Seventh Federal Judicial Circuit provides that “[A] lawyer’s conduct should be characterized at all times by personal courtesy and professional integrity in the fullest sense of those terms. In fulfilling our duty to represent a client vigorously as lawyers, we will be mindful of our obligations to the administration of justice, which is a truth-seeking process designed to resolve human and societal problems in a rational, peaceful, and efficient manner.”
As recognized by the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct, however, conflicting responsibilities as a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen are inevitably encountered. While a lawyer has a duty to zealously protect and pursue a client’s legitimate interests, the lawyer must do so within the bounds of the law, while maintaining a professional, courteous and civil attitude.
A lawyer’s obligation towards civility certainly encompasses an obligation to disagree without being disagreeable, a respect for the rule of law and a rejection of scorched-earth litigation tactics calculated to obscure the truth. Civility is more than just good manners, although being polite is a necessary first step. Notwithstanding, it is certainly possible to politely assert a false narrative or courteously reject a job applicant for discriminatory reasons.
Recognizing this obligation of civility, the NWSBA has been partnering with several other bar associations to provide its members free CLE on topics like implicit bias, diversity, equity and inclusion. Our mentorship, courthouse relations and social committees provide professional development and connection opportunities.
Uncivil behavior feeds the negative stereotypes that damage the profession. It can be emotionally exhausting and lead to higher levels of burnout. Civility leads to better outcomes for our clients and us as attorneys as well.