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5 Reasons to Be Courteous With Opposing Counsel

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 12, 2015 2:52 PM

Sometimes, lawyers take arguments from other lawyers personally. Reading a sentence that starts with, "Defendant is mistaken" can be a hit to your ego and make you a little upset. Remember, though, we're professionals and this sort of thing shouldn't be taken personally. It's just a job.

Even so, the news is filled with stories of lawyers who fired off really nasty letters, or frivolously accused opposing counsel of being unethical. This kind of stuff barely wins the instant battle (if at all) and, in the long run, makes you the kind of lawyer nobody wants to deal with.

Here are five reasons why civility with opposing counsel is one of your most important assets:

1. You'll Be Seeing This Person Again.

Even in a big city, it's likely that, because you and your opposing counsel are in the same area of law, you'll probably see that person again. This means that any aggression or snarkiness that you manifest in a single instance can come back to haunt you. Which leads to Reason No. 2...

2. You Want Opposing Counsel to Want to Help You.

We hear horror stories about lawyers being absolute jerks during depositions, objecting to even the most basic questions as irrelevant or duplicative. Really, though, most lawyers are courteous to each other and extend that into professional courtesy; for example, they'll accommodate vacations, doctor's appointments, and other things that come up, or agree to extend deadlines as a matter of course. Failing to be courteous could mean that you won't get that kind of deference in the future.

3. Want to Advance in Your Career?

Whether it's being appointed to a panel, getting a certification, or applying to be a judge, the Ghosts of Opposing Counsels Past will haunt you. Many of these applications require references from prior opposing counsel -- meaning your adversaries in the past will be in a position to give you a good recommendation, or not. If you were competent and professional, you might get a good reference. But if you scheduled a hearing while you knew opposing counsel would be out of town, well, that's a problem, isn't it?

4. It's Unprofessional.

Taking things personally, or trying to manipulate procedure to gain an unfair advantage, isn't just pragmatically problematic. It also makes you look petty, which isn't exactly the mark of professionalism. Like we said at the beginning, this is just a job. You're not actually fighting a war, even if war metaphors get used a lot, so don't act like counter-arguments are a personal affront. If you can't separate professional argument from your ego, maybe it's time to find a new job.

5. It Could Get You Sanctioned.

Being uncivil toward opposing counsel could be a violation of the rules of professional conduct, and if the incivility is especially vexatious (like deliberately scheduling a deposition many hours away from opposing counsel's client just to be a jerk), the court will take notice. Sanctions can include money, but even more importantly, discovery sanctions can include an admission of the fact at issue, if, for example, a crucial document "mysteriously" vanishes.

So, in other words, be nice. Don't be a pushover when it comes to advocating for your client, but also treat opposing counsel like a human being.

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