Civility: It's Not a Sign of Weakness

Julie Braman Kane, Chairman, NCA Bd. of Trustees, Address at the Educ. Program for AAJ 2007 Annual Convention in Chi., Ill.: Civility: It’s Not a Sign of Weakness, July 14, 2007


Ms. Braman Kane defines civility and equates it with honesty and professionalism:  George Washington defined civility as “acting always with respect to those around you and by being controlled by your own conscience.” Abraham Lincoln, addressing new law graduates, stressed the importance of honesty.  A 19th-century Connecticut State Chief Justice stated that a lawyer must be honest, above all, and professional, warning against a system of “legalized plunder” where professionalism and honesty are bypassed.  The ABA Model Rules Professional Responsibility 4.1 and 8.4 require honesty and integrity.

She states that regardless of the frequency, each instance of incivility and lack of professionalism has an outsized impact because it is remembered by all who encounter it.  Notions of billing the hours and winning the case have displaced the tradition of civility that used to be transmitted to young lawyers.

She finally offers strategies to combat the culture of belligerence in practice:

  • A good rule of thumb is to “[m]ake your Mama proud.”
  • Choose an attorney mentor with whom you already have a relationship, someone to guide difficult decision-making.
  • Ask whether you would take a contemplated action in front of your parents or grandparents. Are you doing the right thing?
  • Dealing with opposing counsel, remaining civil and even cordial will make life easier.
  • Dealing with an uncivil judge, even more restraint is required, to protect your client’s interests and your reputation with the court.