'Civil' Practice in Maine

Thomas E. Humphrey, Chief Justice, Me. Super. Ct., ‘Civil’ Practice In Maine Address at the Me. State Bar Ass’n Annual Program: Bridging the Gap (Nov. 30, 2004), in 20 Me. B.J. 6, Winter 2005. 


Chief Justice Thomas E Humphrey of Maine discusses how the legal profession can be improved by focusing on civility. He defines incivility as “all manner of adversarial excess, … personal attacks on other lawyers, hostility, boorish behavior, rudeness, insulting behavior, and obstructionist conduct, …as behavior that is disagreeable, impolite, discourteous, acerbic, acrimonious, obstreperous, ill-mannered, antagonistic, surly, ungracious, insolent, uncouth, disparaging, malevolent, spiteful, demeaning, vitriolic and rancorous--and sometimes all of these in one short deposition.”

He explains that it is difficult to define civility, but suggests that civility goes beyond “treating other people with courtesy, dignity, and kindness.” He says it is “more than surface politeness; it is an approach that seeks to diminish rancor, to reconcile, to be open to non-litigious resolution.” He goes on to quote the Washington State Bar Association chief disciplinary counsel: “[C]ivility and professionalism relate to the basic level of trust and respect accorded by one person to another, of the level of confidence a lawyer or a judge can have in the word of another lawyer or a judge. Civility and professionalism form a framework for common expectations of mutual trust, of being treated with dignity, and ultimately set the stage for justice to be done.” Civility is necessary because the “the profession’s overriding goal is to make the promise of justice a reality.”

He reviews systemic attempts to address incivility in the profession including various codes of civility and efforts made by the American Inns of Court. He suggests that law firms, judges, and law schools all play a role in promoting civility. He concludes that codes, oaths, and other initiatives are not the real solution. Rather, the effort to increase civility must come from within all lawyers “because the dignity and the worth of the profession are [theirs] to preserve or to lose.”