By Dev Sethi
This week I had the privilege of presenting a CLE, continuing legal education on the subject of civility in the legal profession. The seminar was presented by the State Bar of Arizona and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). I like teaching these classes because I enjoy the interaction with other lawyers as we discuss both age old and cutting edge problems and issues of practice. I also like it because it gets me out of the office and together with friends and adversaries.
This seminar, though, was special. It offered the opportunity to talk about the very important topic of civility in the civil litigation system alongside Judge Jim Marner and some very distinguished members of ABOTA, from Arizona and California.
Too often civility falls to the wayside in a heated litigation. Clients demand aggressive advocates, and lawyers, themselves, can get caught up in a downward spiral of aggression and unprofessionalism. So this session was a nice way to call time out and remind ourselves that lawyering is a profession and even in battle we can disagree without being disagreeable.
Two highlights stand out, both of which are worth sharing. First, remember the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want to be treated. That is really the beginning and end of the instruction. If we keep in mind what our parents taught us as kids, we will all be a lot better off. Second, civility is not a sign of weakness. To the contrary, civility – like kindness – requires control, courage and power.
As we reviewed the materials and had a back and forth discussion, a picture came into sharp focus. Litigation in Arizona, especially Tucson and Pima County, remains exceptionally civil and professional. Our community of lawyers is small. We are repeat players in the system, and bad behavior is swiftly recognized and swept out. We have more and more Phoenix and out of state lawyers coming here, and frankly I think their clients are ill-served sending these folks in, often unprepared for the professional and civil tone that we strike in litigation. But even with this incursion, trying cases and representing clients in Arizona remains a true privilege.