Wednesday, May 22, 2019
I was sitting on the bench waiting for the bailiff to call the courtroom to order. They stood behind counsel’s table. They were nervous. She took a yellow pad out of her bag, placed her bag on the floor, and sat down. He sat down next to her. He twisted in his seat. Reaching into the backpack sitting behind him, he pulled out two bottles of water. He set one bottle in front of himself and handed the other one to her. She seemed surprised.
She smiled and whispered, “Thank you.”
“All rise,” shouted the bailiff.
He didn’t know that I had observed the small act of kindness.
He didn’t know this small act conveyed much about his character.
After the argument, I commended him for giving his co-counsel a bottle of water. I did so in front of the others. I wanted them to know how important kindness is in practice.
Much has been written about the need for civility and professionalism in the law. Wild stories circulate about attorneys’ bad behavior. The theme seems to be that we lawyers are jerks and have been for a very long time. Now, judges are cracking down. Disciplinary boards are intervening.
“Don’t be like that lawyer.”
Instead of “don’t,” maybe we could focus on “do.”
Please be like my student. He was moments away from delivering his first oral argument before a panel of three judges. He was going to be graded on his delivery. He was anxious. Yet in the moment, he thought about someone else. There was nothing to be gained by sharing water with his classmate. He was kind for no good reason.
His gesture caught my eye because his kindness was unexpected in this arena. It made me think about how we are always “on” when we are in court. We can do things that impact our credibility as lawyers without even knowing we are doing so. Our behavior communicates who we are as people and as lawyers.
Be kind especially when you think no one is watching.
Be kind where and when it is unexpected.
Be kind and change what people think of lawyers.
Amanda Sholtis teaches legal analysis and writing at Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.