As litigation lawyers, Inga and I walk a fine line between being an advocate on behalf of a client and straying into the use of words or actions that would have a label of “incivility” tossed in our direction.
Our law society is always trumpeting the need for lawyers to be civil towards each other and to the judges before whom we appear.
As per The Honourable Judge Dunnigan of the Provincial Court of Alberta: “Civility has to mean more than someone saying ‘excuse me’ before they stab you in the back” [Credit to Eugene Meehan (http://www.supremeadvocacy.ca) for the quote and inspiration for this blog].
But I question if the law society’s never ending demands that lawyers be civil has become an issue of quasi -political correctness. The pendulum has swung to the point where some lawyers dare not say a strong word for fear of the incivility accusation.
There is no doubt that civility is necessary in our functions as advocates. I have had clients in the past question why I am cordial to opposing counsel in the courtroom. The response of course is that the clients pay our firm to represent them, not to step into their shoes.
But fierce advocates for the client’s cause we must remain. We do not hold back in aggressive pursuit of a file simply because we do not want a lawyer or opposing party’s feelings hurt. We respect the judges that we appear before but do not back down from making difficult arguments and debating points of law. If there is a weakness in the arguments or facts presented by an opposing lawyer, we will expose them and take full advantage to forward a client’s cause.
However, we temper this with the consideration that any skirmishes between counsel may at some point be an issue before a judge. So civility remains important, both from practical and professional points of view. But concerns over civility cannot and will not take over our acting as an effective advocate for our clients.