Saturday, September 16, 2023
As I sat down to write this post, I realized it would appear at the beginning of the Jewish new year celebration of Rosh Hashanah and on my twenty-eighth wedding anniversary. The rabbi who married us all those years ago had to leave our reception early to catch a flight to Israel for the new year, and Rosh Hashanah and our anniversary will always be connected in my mind. In the spirit of this connection, I send wishes for a sweet and healthy new year to everyone celebrating, and I also share some thoughts on civility and my long marriage.
This week, retired Prof. Scott Fruehwald shared on a list-serv the abstract of Prof. David Grenardo’s upcoming article on mandating civility, Debunking the Major Myths Surrounding Mandatory Civility for Lawyers Plus Five Mandatory Civility Rules That Will Work, 37 Geo. J. Legal Ethics __ (forthcoming). While the author notes the article is still in draft form, it has already won the American Inns of Court 2023 Warren E. Burger Prize. I highly recommend reading it.
Prof. Grenardo details the way four states—Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and South Carolina—have adopted mandatory civility rules. See id. at (draft manuscript pages) 10, 12-16. He also makes powerful arguments that we should follow these states and move from voluntary, aspirational statements of a lawyer’s duty to be civil to mandatory civility rules. See, e.g., id. at 16-23. He concludes: “Talking is not enough—leaders of the legal system need to act. State bars, state supreme courts, and, if necessary, state legislatures must take the step that four brave states already have—mandate civility.” Id. at 37.
As I read Prof. Grenardo’s draft article, I was thankful (as always) for an appellate career, where I avoided much of the terrible incivility too often present in discovery and trial scheduling issues. Nonetheless, I also remembered one opposing counsel’s refusal to stipulate to my seven-day extension request for a reply brief when I was in the hospital during a difficult pregnancy and the extension would not have changed the oral argument date in the matter. You can probably also share a memory of incivility in your practice.
How does this connect to my marriage? When my students ask how my husband and I have been married for more years than most of them have been alive, I tell them, “marriage is respect and compromise.” Clearly, I am oversimplifying, but maybe only a bit. And the more I see incivility in the legal profession, the more I see the need for respect and compromise. Of course, clients deserve vigorous advocacy, and that does not always square with the idea of compromise. Prof. Grenardo has several answers to this quandary. For example, he notes that many lawyers “point to civility as a necessary component of effective advocacy,” id. at 34, and being more civil and willing to compromise on meritorious requests saves clients money, id. at 6.
Whether you agree that we need to mandate civility rules, believe we just need to enforce our aspirational canons better, or find reports of incivility exaggerated, I hope this blog makes you think about compromise and our role as advocates. I also hope you will read Prof. Grenardo’s article, either now or when Georgetown publishes it. Happy new year!