Originally published December 31, 2014 in The Indiana Lawyer
Civility. Courtesy. Respect. Professionalism.
These are words that should be synonymous with “Advocate” but in a world of high stakes, strong opinions, and a general, societal decline in basic manners, how can attorneys fight the good fight while living up to these ideals – especially if the other side doesn’t? We set out to find examples of lawyers who model the way while providing excellent representation.
Getting Along is Not Wrong, an initiative of the IndyBar Standing Committee on Professionalism, is the impressive collection of such positive and compelling behavior.
By Holly Wanzer, Wanzer Edwards PC
Some of the best advice I learned came from practicing in the office next to my good friend, Pam Paige. I soaked up Pam’s practice style by practicing both near her and with her. Pam can get more done with three phone calls than most lawyers can achieve with six months of pleadings. The best advice I ever got from Pam is something I return to constantly in my practice and preach throughout my office: Whenever you are faced with filing a pleading, serving discovery or taking any action in a case, ask yourself, “Does this move the file forward? Does the action you are contemplating walk your client closer to resolution?”
Asking myself these questions has saved me from firing off the angry email, reactionary pleading and making the crummy, angry phone call. If I am planning to take action in a case in order to make myself feel better or to let me move through my emotions and frustrations, I am likely taking the wrong action. My clients do not deserve to pay for that, and they deserve better and more professional service from me. Taking only actions that move the client’s case toward resolution is a core principle in how I maintain my civility and professionalism even in tough cases with tough opposing counsel or opposing party. How easy is it to react emotionally and to slip into unprofessional behavior that leaves civility in the dust? It’s pretty easy if you lose sight of whose fight it really is–the client’s. I gratefully think of Pam Paige every time I save myself from being the jerky opposing counsel who fires off icky pleadings and emails and instead focus on taking actions that move my client toward the end of his or her legal journey.
Another model of professionalism is my wonderful partner, Elisabeth Edwards. She once represented a client in a case headed for hearing which involved another party and an intervener. With the hearing 24-48 hours away, Elisabeth found case law that soundly defeated the intervener’s position. Instead of tucking it in her back pocket and pulling it out at hearing, thereby making the intervener’s counsel look foolish and unprepared, she called the intervener’s counsel and emailed him the case law. Not only did the case headed to hearing immediately settle, but the intervener’s counsel has never forgotten this. Years have passed and he still mentions it when he sees her as well as tells that story to others. He will forever give her every professional courtesy that he can, and her phone calls always get returned. That’s a perfect example of how doing the civil thing can benefit the client, who avoids the expense and pain of a hearing, and how your reputation can be shaped by something small and easy to do.
If you would like to submit content or write an article for the Professionalism Committee, please email Kara Sikorski at email@example.com.