08
February
2018
|
04:56 PM
America/Chicago

President's Page: What makes the “Best Lawyers” the “Best”?

(Part Three of a Six-Part Series) By Morry Cole, 2017-18 Missouri Bar President[1] January - February Issue, Journal of The Missouri Bar

Summary

What demeanor do YOU display? How do YOU treat other people? How do YOU represent OUR profession?

Cole, MorryWhat demeanor do YOU display? How do YOU treat other people? How do YOU represent OUR profession?

Pondering appropriate demeanor is not a new concept or trend (e.g., “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31). The best lawyers realize that lawyers are leaders in our communities and our tone matters. If we do not set an appropriate tone in our discourse, who in our state and nation will? How do the “best lawyers” carry themselves? And why do they behave that way?

Some lawyers may think it is okay to take advantage of inexperienced attorneys or pro se litigants. If they can use complicated court procedures to frustrate those less-experienced opponents, even to the exclusion of all merits of a case, they do it. The best lawyers hold this thought in disdain. 

Some lawyers think it is okay to market our profession like a going-out-of-business sale. Distasteful, classless and obnoxious advertisements are fine by them, as long as they bring work through the door. The best lawyers know all marketing efforts should be dignified and professional. 

Some attorneys may view a case or file as “inventory” or a “commodity.” The best lawyers bristle at such a notion. The best know that “cases” and “files” mean “people” and “problems.” These lawyers strive to help people solve their problems.

Some attorneys view discovery as an invitation to obfuscate. They fail to respond, are late in producing documents, “object around” answering, play games to try to stymie the other side, or make the court endure long arguments on motions to compel. The best lawyers disagree with these “interpretations” of how discovery is supposed to progress. 

Some attorneys think it is okay to yell at people. They believe raising your voice at an opponent or opposing litigant can be an effective negotiating style. The best lawyers value preparation over screaming and are unfazed by these blowhards. Some lawyers think that it is an effective tactic to threaten, cajole, bully, or browbeat the other side into a course of conduct. They see no harm in such confrontation. The best lawyers go to great lengths to avoid embarrassing or scaring anyone and address issues in a forthright and matter-of-fact manner. 

Some lawyers think it is okay to berate or personally attack other lawyers or litigants. Bashing, name-calling, and nasty characterizations of arguments are their norm. The best lawyers know this behavior actually damages the blustering attorney’s credibility. 

How do the “best lawyers” conduct themselves?

The best lawyers are civil and they represent their clients and our profession with dignity. 

When it comes to inexperienced or pro se litigants, the best lawyers remember the second line of our oath of admission (“That I will maintain the respect due courts of justice, judicial officers and members of my profession and will at all times conduct myself with dignity becoming of an officer of the court in which I appear”) and the fifth line of that same oath (“That I will practice law to the best of my knowledge and ability and with consideration for the defenseless and oppressed”).[2] They do not unnecessarily steamroll those with less experience. They prepare, and then present their client’s position clearly, fairly and persuasively.

Marketing is not evil. In fact, if tasteful and professional, it can be an effective educational tool for potential clients and the general public. There certainly is no harm in marketing efforts that are dignified, instructional, and well-produced. The best lawyers cringe at distasteful marketing.

When you deal with the best lawyers, discovery is actually answered. Reasonable extensions are routinely granted. Scheduling is easy. And clients’ and counsels’ family issues, urgencies, emergencies, and vacations are respected.

“Civil” and dignified attorneys respect and revere our profession as a profession. Their prolonged training, formal qualifications, and experience-based pedigree shows they should be professional. Their demeanor proves they are professional. “Civil” attorneys know how to address the court. When they speak to the court, the court listens. They do not make arguments to (or about) opposing counsel. For a “civil” attorney, almost nothing is taken personally, “disingenuous” is never uttered, and sanctions are almost never warranted. “Civil” and dignified attorneys know that picking up the phone can do a lot toward setting the tone in a new case or new deal. They also know that in-person meetings are the most effective way to communicate. These attorneys know that judges and juries hate jerks. They are not jerks.

The best lawyers certainly are not bereft of passion or emotion – quite the contrary. However, they control both, and do not let their passion and emotion control them. They know to only apply the amount of pressure that is required in addressing a situation. And they know that everything they do – every day – reflects on them and our profession. They are true professionals.

If you want to enjoy practicing law more, want to enjoy your time with opposing counsel more, want to impress the courts before which you appear, and want to be among the best lawyers in the state, there are steps you can take.

Step one: Be generous with your time.

Step two: Be supportive of the Missouri Non-Partisan Court plan and fair and impartial courts.

Step three: Be civil and represent our profession with dignity.

Endnotes

1 Morry S. Cole is an attorney with the St. Louis law firm of Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C.

2 Recall your entire Oath of Admission: “I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Missouri; That I will maintain the respect due courts of justice, judicial officers and members of my profession and will at all times conduct myself with dignity becoming of an officer of the court in which I appear; That I will never seek to mislead the judge or jury by any artifice or false statement of fact or law; That I will at all times conduct myself in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct; and, That I will practice law to the best of my knowledge and ability and with consideration for the defenseless and oppressed. So help me God.”