I was thinking of incivility again. Maybe, it was prompted by reading Kathleen Geier’s out-of-both sides of her mouth musings about Joan Rivers. On the one hand, Geier thought Rivers “was pretty great” but on the other, called her “a monster.”
Or perhaps it was reading Sady Doyle‘s back-handed homage “Joan Rivers Should’ve Always Punched Up” where Doyle reflected, “Joan Rivers worked very hard to seem like an asshole — which is the highest compliment I can offer her.”
Sure Rivers often crossed lines of etiquette, taste and civility. Sure she was politically incorrect. But oh the rich irony of critiquing someone for incivility — uncivilly.
And leave it to lawyers. Following Rivers’ death, one lawyer was pretzeling out supposed “Life Lessons for Lawyers” from her life.
What is it about lawyer self-absorption? I doubt dentists, dog catchers or podiatrists waste time divining occupational lessons from pop culture phenomena. Just a couple of years ago, navel-gazing lawyers were conjuring up faux analogies to find ‘lessons’ from “The Hunger Games.”
Lawyer incivility . . . again.
Or perhaps my latest reveries on incivility might have stemmed from a recently reported he-said, she-said case where the U.S. magistrate’s memorandum and order started with the following admonition: “‘You’re an asshole, Dan'” is not how an attorney should address her adversary.”
Another day and another court order documenting what trial lawyer William B. Smith terms “The downward spiral of incivility.”
Let there be rules.
Comedians like Joan Rivers, though, don’t have to comport themselves according to professional rules of conduct. Lawyers, on the other hand, are required to comply with baseline legal ethics and professional responsibility standards. Those rules set forth their obligations and prohibitions. But that doesn’t mean lawyers always follow them.
In point of fact, lawyers aren’t usually successful at playing nice. After all, wasn’t it Horace in early B.C. who said “Lawyers are men who hire out their words and anger”? So I’ve posted often about lawyer incivility. And notwithstanding the fatuous notion of ivory tower professors who assert “The Obligation of Lawyers to Heal Civic Culture,” that parade’s long passed . . . along with the rest of society’s punctured civility.
Not to say that window-dressed efforts don’t occasionally arise to futilely tamp down on incivility. This past May, for instance, the California Supreme Court adopted a “Civility” Oath Rule. It now requires that the oath taken by every newly-minted California lawyer conclude with: “As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.” Yeah, that’ll do it.
Far better is the 7-point practical approach promoted by the above-mentioned lawyer Smith in his excellent ‘how-to’ on avoiding incivility. Smith’s “prevention formula” is terrific. It includes such sensible prescriptions as calling opposing counsel as a get-acquainted first step to establish goodwill and create “the tone of respect.” He also recommends having more face time with the other side, touching on something most of us learned a long time ago — it’s easier to be a jerk in writing than in person. Don’t just count to ten — but wait 24 hours to “avoid writing nasty emails and letters.” For the rest of Smith’s formula, see “How to Avoid the Downward Spiral of Incivility.”
Although the nation’s passion for golf is waning, it nevertheless remains popular enough as both a source of enjoyment and aggravation. For most who play, best to remember what wiser heads advise, “We aren’t good enough to get so mad.”
Better still is A.A. Milne’s explanation, “It is the best game in the world at which to be bad.” No wonder that another no-holds barred comedian, Lewis Black, was on the mark about golfers.
This latest fight involved two Pennsylvania golfers who went at it and put themselves in an emergency room. Their argument? It was allegedly over Rule 25, which concerns casual water on the golf course.
Thankfully, despite their aggressive focus on rules interpretation, far as I could tell, neither the 63-year old nor the 42-year old Pennsylvania legalistic brawler was a lawyer. It wouldn’t have surprised me, though, if they’d both been versed not only at golf course rage but at the boring practice of water law.
But just as civility among lawyers can’t be legislated, cantankerousness can’t be stamped out on the golf links. It’s part of the DNA of the so-called ‘gentleman’s game’ as much as it’s a part of the so-called ‘noble profession.’
Consequently, the mere promulgation of rules of golf with a prefatory “the spirit of the game,” hardly means golfers abide religiously with the precept that “All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be.”
Yeah, that’ll do it.
Photo Credits: The Thinker, Rodin, at Wikimedia Commons, AndrewHorne at the wikipedia project, public domain; Joan Rivers Benefit Concert, by Bob Jagendorf at Flickr via Creative Commons license requiring attribution; Two Award Winning Flickr Photographers Duke it Out by Okinawa Soba at Flickr Creative Commons via Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license; Bad golf cart driver (after 2 days of rain) by Julia Rubinic at Flickr via Creative commons license requiring attribution.