Editor's note: This is one of four stories by 4th Judicial Circuit judges as they share their insight into the 2023 Law Day theme: Cornerstones of Democracy: Civics, Civility, and Collaboration.
In recent years, most individuals have been impacted by the unpredictable and rapidly evolving nature of our day-to-day lives and our world.
This results in a sense of uncertainty and creates anxiety and stress and a loss of control, which may cause individuals to speak and behave in a way that is less than respectful, compassionate and considerate of their fellow man.
As a solution, I suggest that the legal community collectively renew our dedication to embodying civility, which pertains to exhibiting behavior and speech that are characterized by politeness, courtesy and respect.
Attorneys have all pledged to “seek fairness, integrity, and civility in our dealings with clients, opposing parties, witnesses, and the courts.”
Maintaining civility may be especially difficult in emotionally charged hearings such as those in family law, domestic violence or contested probate matters.
Often clients involved in these hearings have goals such as obtaining an apology, recognition of power, or for pure victory that is oftentimes out of reach in any litigation.
Despite the emotions involved, clients are better served when they refrain from talking over one another and the court.
Attorneys who practice civility routinely negotiate better settlements, secure favorable rulings, and win cases.
They maintain strong relationships with opposing counsel and are better positioned to resolve disputes outside of court.
On the other hand, when lawyers engage in ad hominem attacks or make derogatory remarks, it can damage their credibility and that of the legal system. Conflict breeds conflict.
Encouraging your clients to be civil has several benefits.
First, I believe individuals make better decisions when they use the executive function part of their brains rather than the emotional freeze, flight or fight part of their brains.
Second, clients should be advised that “the argument is in the mind of the listener,” so it never hurts to act civilly to the court or jury, especially given the research that many decisions are made based on subconscious considerations.
Civility is critical to the pursuit of justice and can be contagious. Let us all strive to be civil in our professional interactions and encourage others along the way.
• Circuit Judge Angela Cox: Building a stronger and more just society for all. Story here
• Circuit Judge John Guy: In collaboration, everyone should work towards same goal. Story here
• Circuit Judge Steven Whittington: Share your knowledge, skills with fellow citizens. Story here