Thursday, August 26, 2004

On the Decline of Civility

In Eric Zorn's discussion of the infamous Ankur Gupta voice mail he links to a blogger who says:
I despise incompetence so actually tend to side with Gupta. *** In my view, all this noise about 'the decline in civility' is part and parcel of lawyers' attempt to keep their profession licensed so as to keep out competition. It is arrogance to believe civility is more the
domain of attorneys than 'normal' people.
I couldn't disagree more.

Civility is more the domain of attorneys than "normal" people. Attorneys are the legal representatives of clients. "Legal representative" isn't a metaphor, it is a literal fact. When Mr. Gupta behaved like a vulgar fool, he did so, literally, in the name of his client. Such behavior can have serious consequences, sanctions are just one example, for the client. It is not the same as when a clerk or bike messenger is uncivil.

A professional -- and attorneys are supposed to be professionals -- does not curse, insult and threaten in the name of a client. Clients don't need an attorney for that and they sure don't need to pay an attorney's hourly rate for that.

In addition, attorneys have responsibilities and obligations to the Court as well as to their clients. Every Illinois attorney, by taking an oath to practice law, commits himself to being an officer of the Court. Furthermore, the Preamble to the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct refers to "A Lawyer's Responsibilities" and states, "A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system, and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice." RRPC 0.1(1). By being an officer of the Court, and practicing in a profession that regulates itself so stringently, lawyers do have many responsibilities that distinguish them from other people as well as other professionals.

It is not unreasonable to believe that one of the responsibilities is to avoid demanding that a colleague act as a "monkey f*cking scribe."

In fact, the Illinois Supreme Court thinks civility is so important that they convened orientation sessions for new Illinois law students this year exclusively to "speak to them about the importance of civility to their peers and potential clients and administer an Oath of Professionalism."

I just wanted to state for the record that many attorneys -- and judges -- recognize the seriousness of "the decline in civility" in the legal profession.

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