Should You Play Nice?

     Why does it matter whether we treat an opposing lawyer as an enemy rather than a long-lost friend?
     An odd either-or question from a “Civility Matters” video
     I’m in favor of niceness. Really, I am.
     But does it really matter?
     I found myself wondering this the other day after spotting a press release from the American Board of Trial Advocates that announced that the Florida Supreme Court had “revised the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar to include a pledge of ‘fairness, integrity, and civility’ to opponents, not only in court, but also ‘in all written and oral communications.'”
     I don’t know. Maybe there’s been a rash of lawyers with hurt feelings in Florida.
     Naturally, I checked out the ABOTA website. There you can find a video (both a long and a short version depending on your attention span) called “Civility Matters.”
     I watched it. I’m still not clear on the concept.
     The video starts with an aerial shot of, I think, downtown Philadelphia or Boston (some patriotic-looking place) coupled with dramatic strings in the background, then switches to a scene with Danny DeVito and Matt Damon from “The Rainmaker.”
     Later, there are scenes from “Ally McBeal” and “The Client.”
     Ah, so this is how lawyers behave.
     The rest of the video is taken up by judges and lawyers telling us that other lawyers have been mean and they shouldn’t be. My favorite is the guy claiming there are lawyers who use “Rambo” tactics.
     Rambo, as we all know, was infamous for his poison pen.
     Don’t look at me. Watch it yourself.
     The closest anyone came to providing a good reason to be nice was a prominent Southern California lawyer who says, “I think there’s a lot of money in decency, quite frankly.”
     Unfortunately, this statement came after he rambled on for a while about he was nice about letting his opponent in one case pick some experts in a case he was going to win anyway. The guy’s a prince.
     OK. One judge claimed that, if you’re nice, you’re more likely to get a settlement or, if a jury likes you, you’re more likely to win.
     But is that true?
     Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. Do you usually get a better deal by being friendly or by asking for a lot while holding out the prospect of years of hard-core litigation?
     Do you give more money to the guy with flowers or the guy with a gun pointing at you?
     I don’t have the answer. I’m just asking. (You might want to offer me flowers or point a gun at me to make me decide.)
     Toward the end of the video, there’s this statement from a criminal court judge in Los Angeles:
     “You should always assume that when you’re alone with somebody in a room and you’re discussing a case and it’s a grey area, assume that there’s a camera watching you or a tape recorder recording everything you say.”
     OK. Now that’s a reason to be civil.
     Unless, of course, you’re being mean to trick the other guy into saying something incriminating while he doesn’t know he’s being secretly recorded.
     It’s a tricky ethical world out there.
     Meanwhile, be nice while you’re not litigating. You’ll feel better.
     I leave you now with one of the closing lines from the video’s host:
     “Remember, being civil and professional are not primarily about being a good person.”
     Use civility if it works to your advantage.

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