My practice is primarily focused on civil litigation, with additional practice areas where I try to counsel clients and prepare documents to minimize litigation. In legal jargon, I am a civil lawyer and my goal is to also be a “civil” (courteous & professional) lawyer in my dealing with opposing counsel, judges, court officials, parties and clients. I am starting this blog to have a forum where civil discussion can take place regarding issues that arise from the practice of law and developments springing from court decisions and legislation. I think an appropriate topic to kick this blog off is the importance of civility in the legal arena.
Some trial lawyers and lawyers in general have developed a reputation for outrageous conduct. A quick review of deposition excerpts on YouTube® reveals some unprofessional language and actions that reflect poorly on the profession and the justice system as well.
My experience with lawyers has been mostly quite different. I have gone to battle against very accomplished lawyers where the facts and the law were hotly disputed—and yet, we developed respect for each other and often, long-lasting friendship. I remember one pretrial conference many years ago in Albany, Georgia where Del Percilla, Don Rentz and myself were discussing with Judge Loring Gray how long we thought the trial would take. Judge Gray, half-joking, said that he would be present when the jury was selected and return when it was time to give the jury his instructions at the end of the case. He said that he was confident we could try the case without him.
We all chuckled, but were proud that the judge had confidence in our desire to have a fair trial and to represent our clients in a way that would not require his intervention. We were prepared for a hard fight, but a clean fight. In more than 35 years of practice, I am pleased to say that 99% of my experiences with opposing counsel have been just as pleasant.
The jury system is periodically attacked by special interests that wish to avoid being held accountable for their actions by citizens who have taken an oath to find and speak the truth. Comments such as “those folks are not my peers” or “my case is too complex for a jury” reveal a dangerous desire for a justice system that places little value on common sense and an unwillingness to accept the investment that all citizens, regardless of their education, socio-economic status or race have in a fair justice system.
Most juries, even those with very diverse membership, are able to engage in frank and open discussion and reach a unanimous verdict on highly disputed issues. I have served on two criminal juries and personally observed the commitment of jurors to honest deliberation and a fair outcome.
The key to these unanimous verdicts and to the success of the judicial system is respect and a willingness to examine issues thoroughly, putting aside prejudice and emotion.
Civil discussion and behavior is more likely than not to achieve a sensible solution or result. That is my hope for this blog. I will offer my thoughts, primarily on issues arising out of the courts and law practice, and encourage your feedback. I also welcome any suggestions for potential blog topics. I only ask that you participate in a civil manner.