With the events of the last few weeks — the death and devastation in our own country and around the world — I reflect on our responsibility as lawyers to resolve conflict with professionalism and civility.
We have so little control over the hatred, the violence and the sadness. But, there’s something we can control: ourselves.
As the world seems to deteriorate, we as lawyers are in a position to be examples and guides to the community on ways to respectfully navigate adversarial situations.
This may not seem like enough, but with over 100,000 lawyers in Florida, each touching the lives of clients, businesses and families, our actions undoubtedly make a difference.
It is the nature of our work that we are opponents. We always are fighting over something. Sometimes it’s property and sometimes it’s innocence.
How do we fight? How do we adamantly disagree, but still move forward and come to a resolution without destruction?
Our oath requires that we do so with professionalism, but what does it really mean to be professional?
I return to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Could it really be that simple? I believe it is.
In preparation for this article, I reviewed the “Professionalism Expectations” drafted by The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism and adopted in 2015 by The Florida Board of Bar Examiners.
Each and every expectation comes back to the Golden Rule.
The “unto others” includes our clients, colleagues, opposing counsel, judges, support staff, clerks, judicial assistants, witnesses, pro se litigants, the indigent and all with whom we interact.
We must have morality in our practices. There are wonderful examples of lawyers who exemplified professionalism, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln or the fictional character, Atticus Finch.
But our sights do not have to be so lofty. You and I can start smaller and make changes.
For example, I want others to be honest with me, so I must be honest with them.
I do not want the other side to engage in dilatory or delay tactics, so I must not use such practices. I want others to be prepared, so I must be prepared.
I want my emails and phone calls returned, so I must do the same. I do not want to be yelled at, so I cannot yell either.
I want the other side to be reasonable in responding to my requests, so I must too be reasonable.
This is not complicated. Yet, judges and lawyers are seeing serious professionalism violations in and out of the courtroom.
I hear stories of attorneys who do not show up to court and tell their clients to let the judge know; stories of lawyers taking phone calls during court; lawyers screaming at each other; stories of dishonesty and win-at-all-costs attitudes.
This behavior is unfathomable and has no place in our judicial system. Actions like these only perpetuate lawyer stereotypes and denigrate the justice system. They make orderly resolution of conflicts impossible.
When we respect each other, we move cases forward. We show our clients and society that lawyers serve an honorable purpose, which is to resolve conflicts peacefully with the least amount of collateral damage.
Our clients see it is possible to navigate adversarial situations without animosity, hatred or violence.
If each client takes a little of our professionalism back to their families and businesses, we as lawyers have made a difference.
It is our honor and responsibility as lawyers, as professionals, to set an example for the rest of society.
The example starts with demonstrating the highest standards of professionalism within our profession and outside of our profession, which will effect change in the community. That gives me hope.
Ashley Wells Greene is an attorney at Bedell, Dittmar, DeVault, Pillans & Coxe.