I first started blogging about civility in 2017. Ever since, it’s been a frequent topic. Still, I find those early posts interesting, if only from the perspective of how my thoughts on civility evolved.
In February 2017, I posted President’s Day & Civility. My first post that includes “civility” in the headline, it includes no original thought. Rather, I used the occasion to share then-ABA President Linda Klein’s message on the role that lawyers can play in promoting civil discourse. President Klein wrote:
- “As leaders in society, lawyers must ensure that civility once again becomes a quality that defines us. We need to set the tone for constructive communication and rational decision-making. It starts with us and every individual committing to a more civil manner, insisting that civility be a part of meetings and interactions. Indeed, we need to hold ourselves and our leaders to a higher standard.”
Later that year, W.I.N. Your 3-Feet of Influence marked the first post in which I urged lawyers to practice civility. The post doesn’t include a single reference or citation to the Rules of Professional Conduct. Rather, echoing President Klein and using a prop from my coaching days, I wrote:
- “What’s Important Now? That in the next interaction I have with someone, I’m going to commit to a civil, honest, respectful communication – – regardless of how that person treats me. I can’t control how that person acts, but I can control how I react.”
Finally, 2017’s civility posts concluded with Don’t Be a Jerk. The post was the first in my series on the 50 Original Rules and the first in which I attempted to argue that, in fact, civility has long been one of our professional obligations.
As the years have gone by, I’ve continued to address civility & professionalism both in this space and at seminars. I’m not the only one. As I wrote here, at the 2021 swearing-in ceremony, Justice Eaton’s remarks to Vermont’s newest lawyers focused on civility and included this statement:
- “I would ask you to remember that incivility is not advocacy, nor is it effective lawyering.”
Similarly, at the same ceremony in 2022, Chief Justice Reiber celebrated new lawyers’ taking of the oath with a speech “about ethics and civility as both are wrapped in professional judgment and character.” Early in his address, the Chief noted:
- “Let there be no doubt the notion of zealous advocacy is alive and well in the courts. But does it excuse us as practicing lawyers from exercising common sense and moral judgment, obligations to non-clients?”
As you might guess, the remainder of the Chief’s remarks answered the question in the negative. In the process, and referring to the late Joan Wing, the Chief stated:
- “It is well known that lawyers serve the public by serving clients and administering justice. But good lawyers also serve the public by modeling civility and respect for human dignity, including to those who have fallen. Civility as in not mere politeness but a trait of character evidenced in speech and conduct, grace.”
And yet despite years of promoting civility, the feedback from practicing lawyers is that incivility remains a problem. I noticed an increase in incivility that coincided with the onset of the pandemic. I’m not so naïve to believe that a waning public health crisis will counteract the rise, and I’ve received reports that stress and anxiety associated with both the backlog and the reopening have contributed to a further increase in incivility.
What to do? I don’t know. But maybe there’s a place to start.
Andrew Manitsky is the current President of the Vermont Bar Association. Andrew has made civility and professionalism a major focus of his tenure. He addresses the topic in his forthcoming “President’s Column” in the Vermont Bar Journal. Also, on March 31, Andrew, Judge Teachout, and I will present a seminar on civility/professionalism at the Mid-Year Meeting in Manchester.
Yesterday, the VBA sent a survey on civility/professionalism. By the end of the day, more than 300 lawyers had responded. I understand that the data is already quite illuminating. We will share the results at the Mid-Year Meeting.
Please check your email and take the survey. Your voice matters as we redouble our efforts to promote civility and civil discourse within the Vermont legal profession.
- Lawyer’s incivility is a factor in a substantially reduced fee award
- Incivility results in public sanctions
- Wellness Wednesday: Baseball & Civility
- Virginia Lawyer reprimanded for vulgar email to witness
- High school basketball and an order imposing sanctions for incivility
- A civility oath for lawyers
- Lawyer admonished for making baseless accusations of incivility against opposing counsel