by Bradley Parsons
Early in his legal career, Talbot D’Alemberte settled a dispute with his firm’s managing partner by punching the man. Later, when summoned to his boss’s office to apologize, D’Alemberte became so angry that he slugged the man again.
That may seem like an odd anecdote with which to lead off a discussion on legal peacemaking, but the tale, courtesy of Hank Coxe in his introduction of D’Alemberte, shows how far legal professionalism has come in the intervening decades. But, according to the speakers at the Jacksonville Bar Association’s Judicial/Bar Symposium Thursday, D’Alemberte and Florida Coastal School of Law professor Susan Daicoff, attorneys still have a long way to go before they can accurately be described as peacemakers.
Lawyers as conflict resolvers is a growing movement inside the legal profession, but both speakers admitted it’s not the typical perception. The role typically associated with attorneys was summed up by D’Alemberte in his recollection of an invocation given at a meeting of Caribbean lawyers.
“They led the meeting off with their typical invocation,” said D’Alemberte. “It went: ‘O Lord, sow strife among our neighbors so we, your servants, might prosper.”
That’s an unfair characterization of the profession, however, when the impact of American-style justice is weighed around the world, he said. D’Alemberte, a former president of the Amercian Bar Association and Florida State University, led an initiative to help build court systems in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. His experience there led him to the belief that the American courts’ professionalism was the envy of the world.
“You hear all the lawyer jokes, but just about every place in the world would love to have a system that works as well as ours,” he said.
But that system could work better if attorneys understand the aspects of their jobs that push them toward creating disputes instead of solving them, said Daicoff. Daicoff practiced corporate law before earning her master’s degree in clinical psychology and turning her attention to what she describes as “the emerging field of lawyer personality.”
“I thought I heard a twitter go through the audience when I mentioned that,” she said. “It’s not an oxymoron.”
In her classroom at Florida Coastal, and in her book, “Lawyer Know Thyself,” Daicoff explores the personality traits that make for generally successful lawyers. It turns out those traits can also produce generally miserable people.
Daicoff said the competitiveness that drives successful attorneys can also produce a lack of professional civility, which in turn contributes to a low public opinion of attorneys and increased distress on the job.
Lawyers who learn to resolve conflicts through means other than beating their competitors into submission could enjoy happier careers, she said.
D’Alemberte had his own ideas about chasing professional happiness. He said the happiest lawyers he knows are those who live up to the lofty philanthropic promises made in their law school application essays.