The big topic among Texas lawyers this week is the Texas Day of Civility in Law, fashioned by joint proclamation by the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, the two highest courts in our state. Civility is supposed to be at the core of our profession. But, what does it mean?

First, let’s examine what civility does not mean. Civility is not the absence of disagreement. In fact, the very notion of civility assumes that there will be disagreement and discussion. Our legal system roots in disagreement while providing a method for resolution.

Likewise, civility is not the absence of criticism. The process requires pointing out errors or shortcomings of the other person, such as errors in another’s brief or shortcomings of a legal argument.

Civility does not require that you like a person. Civility requires respect, but not fondness.

Civility is not equivalent to good manners alone. Good manners alone is not sufficient. For example, politely refusing to hire a female lawyer because the firm has a policy against hiring women lawyers is not civil behavior.

Civility comes from French and Latin etymologies, suggesting that one should exhibit good behavior for the good of a community. The principles of civility in law permeate the entire legal system, defining at the core what it means to be a lawyer. Such principles speak to the lawyer’s dual duty as an officer of legal system and the advocate of the client. Even in advocating for a client, a lawyer must show respect for the legal system. Zealous advocacy does not extend to offensive tactics, discourtesy, or disrespect.

A 2007 survey conducted by the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism revealed that 71% of the lawyers surveyed reported experience uncivil behavior, characterized as follows:

  • Rudeness – described at sarcasm, condescending comments, swearing, or inappropriate interruption.
  • Strategic incivility – strategically employing uncivil behavior in an attempt to gain the upper hand such as deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, not agreeing to reasonable requests for accommodation, indiscriminate or frivolous use of pleadings, and inflammatory writing in briefs or motions.

Civility in our profession provides positive outcomes for the legal system and the lawyers involved. Civil lawyers are more effective and achieve better outcomes. Civil lawyers build better reputations. Civility breeds job satisfaction among lawyers in a profession that tends the opposite.

Hat tip to Jayne R. Reardon Civility as the Core of Professionalism