Reflection on "The Civility Promise" in Italy

Written by Karen Taylor, Italy CLE Participant October 2011

You’re doing what? When I told people I was traveling to Italy to take a CLE on “Civility in the Law,” the response was a smile and a knowing look that I was off on a junket. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. The way we practice law affects outcome, and this CLE proved to be an incredible opportunity for learning and reflection—a place ideal for focus and relaxation—and a chance to reconnect and consider not only the value of civility in the legal profession, but also in other professions and in every part of our lives.  Although most continuing legal education classes are held in a law school classroom or a meeting room of a hotel or convention center, choosing to hold “The Promise of Civility in the Legal Profession” in the small medieval town of Sovana, Italy provided a respite from grinding work and a fast-paced world.  Steeped in history, culture, and art, Sovana gave us a greater opportunity to quiet the noise in our lives and consider how to make the legal profession and our world more civil.

Under the leadership of Seattle University’s law professors and staff, our class of twenty-two embarked on this journey exploring the themes of consciousness, creativity, and community under the umbrella of civility. Given that many attorneys work in a world filled with intense conflict, the classes offered many tools for remaining respectful while effectively advocating for others—the idea harkening back to “counselor at law.” Through group interaction and individual reflection, we identified and practiced ways of engaging in more civil behavior and considered ways to bring civility to the forefront in our lives. The CLE helped us realize that in all stages of legal practice inviting collegiality sets the tone for a greater chance of respectful advocacy and successful outcomes for both parties. These benefits of civility further proved enlightening, especially when considering that living within the parameters of more civil behavior improves physical and mental health.

As a complement to classroom work, along with several spouses and significant others, we were able to go on several excursions. These experiences allowed us to connect and enjoy each other’s company—to join in quiet conversation as we engaged in art, discovered Etruscan ruins and visited ancient hill towns, and ate many wonderful meals together talking about our various jobs, the daily classes, and our lives. So while this CLE enhanced our ability to foster a better legal community by giving every participant a chance to be more aware of civility, it also gave us a chance to build relationships.

On a personal level, this CLE was very meaningful; it was conducive to reflection and confirmed my belief that advocacy does not have to equate with hostility and that practicing law does not have to lead to the many health and social problems that afflict attorneys. Through a more respectful practice so many aspects of the negative can be decreased or avoided. There is hope for a more civil profession. The civility movement, thanks to Robert’s Fund under the direction of Paula Lustbader and the foresight of Seattle University School of Law, is just the place to get onboard.