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that may involve an imbalance of power.
In an even greater extreme, it may be
harassment, as defined on the Law Soci-
ety of Upper Canada’s (LSUC) website:
“Harassment is a form of discrimination.
It includes unwelcome comments or
behaviours when such conduct might be
reasonably expected to cause insecurity,
discomfort, offence or humiliation to
There are many reasons for incivility in
the law—work pressures, the need to
“win,” inflated or low self-worth, general
stress professionally and personally, over-
identification with the client’s case, anger,
fear, addictions issues and even mental
It is a serious problem in the legal pro-
fession just by the numbers themselves.
The LSUC reports that civility complaints
rose from 11 per cent of all complaints in
2004 to 33 per cent in 2010. This is
alarming. In the insurance industry, this
trend would be looked at as a crisis of
monumental proportions. For lawyers, it
is that and more, because it goes beyond
money to the confidence of the public in
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One of the problems with the concept
of civility and your relationship with
other lawyers comes from trying to decide
how to handle the competing interests in
the Rules of Professional Conduct in each
province that talk about the lawyer as an
advocate. Rule 4.01 of the Rules of Pro-
fessional Conduct of the LSUC includes
in its Commentary: “The lawyer has a
duty to raise fearlessly every issue,
advance every argument, ask every ques-
tion, however distasteful, which the law-
yer thinks will help the client’s case and to
endeavour to obtain for the client the
benefit of every remedy and defence
authorized by law.”
remarks or acrimony toward other coun-
sel, parties or witnesses,” from The New
York State—Standards of Civility for the
In Ontario, The Advocates’ Society is
promoting an attitude of respect for
other lawyers through its Institute for
Civility and Professionalism with an
award honouring the late Justice Marvin
Catzman, QC. The award represents his
civility and his dedication to the highest
ideals of the legal profession (http://
Leaving it there might open the door
to abuse but the authors of the Com-
mentary went on to temper the
unleashed ardour of runaway advocacy:
Here are a few of my personal tips for
civility in the legal profession from the
New York Standards of Civility:
n;Lawyers should act in a civil manner
regardless of the ill feelings that their clients may have towards others. Lawyers
should represent their clients in an
objective manner so as not to personally
identify with the client’s issues as their own.
n;A lawyer should respect the schedule
and commitments of opposing counsel,
consistent with protection of the client’s
n;A lawyer should promptly return telephone calls and answer correspondence
reasonably requiring a response.
n;Papers should not be served in a manner
designed to take advantage of an opponent’s
absence from the office.
n A lawyer should not use
an aspect of the litigation
process, including discovery and motion practice, as a means of harassment or for the purpose of
litigation or increasing
nLawyers should not
engage in any conduct
that would not be appropriate in the presence of
“The lawyer has a duty
to raise fearlessly
every issue, advance
every argument, ask
Rather than inad-
equately précis the
excellent work of
others with recom-
mendations for bring-
ing civility to the legal
profession, I would recommend the fol-
lowing sources on this subject:
Finally, I would like to
go back to Bremer and
1) The Advocates’ Society Principles of
Civility for Advocates — http://www.
2) The CBA Code of Professional Con-
duct with the Appendix of the Principles of
Civility for Advocates—http://www.cba.
her Inns of Court model. She proposes a
simple solution that used to be part of
the legal fabric in small towns to large
cities and in the Inns of Court in Eng-
land—breaking bread and eating
together. “Communal dining, or a pot-
luck, among lawyers not only contrib-
utes to collegiality, mentoring and edu-
cation, but it promotes civility by
reducing stress and building a sense of
community. And, to quote Martha Stew-
art, ‘that’s a good thing.’ ”
4)From my favourite legal
writer—Ron Profit of Charlottetown,
P.E.I. who wrote “Civility in Legal Prac-
tice — Practical Tips” — http://www.cba.
So, I suggest that you try this when
you have a particularly difficult lawyer
on the other side. Take him or her to
lunch. You may actually find things in
common personally, learn to like each
other, work collaboratively to solve the
legal issue you are working on and foster
a good future relationship. What have
you got to lose? n
5) Choosing Civility — The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct — P. M.
Forni, Cofounder of the Johns Hopkins
Civility Project, St. Martin’s Griffin, New
I like this statement: “Lawyers can disagree without being disagreeable. Effective representation does not require antagonistic or acrimonious behaviour. Whether
orally or in writing, lawyers should avoid
vulgar language, disparaging personal
John Starzynski is the volunteer director, peer support and liaison at the
Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance Program
and a director of the Legal Profession
Assistance Conference, the umbrella
organization for all lawyers’ assistance
programs across Canada.
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