The American Bar Association’s Section of Family Law adopted standards of civility for Family (Divorce and Custody) Attorneys. The ABA recognized that civility is important in family law practice. As a litigant and client, why should lawyer civility be important to you?
In my divorce and custody practice, there is a time for negotiation, and there is a time for aggressive representation of my client’s interests. Aggressive representation, however, does not suggest inflammatory or reckless litigation. In my 25 years of litigation experience, as a prosecutor and trial lawyer, the most successful approach to litigation is aggressive, focused civility. Lawyers that treat their clients with respect and care, who treat opposing lawyers with a measure of civility, and who show respect for the Court, get the best results.
Why, as a trial lawyer, act with civility? It saves you, the client, time and money, lowers the stress of the case, and gets the best results. If you hire an angry, reckless, “bulldog” lawyer for your case, you’ll spend more, have more anguish and stress, and your results will likely be far lower. Judges typically don’t respect the generalist “bulldog” lawyers.
So, what are the ABA’s recommendations for civility in divorce practice?:
1. Treat the the client with respect.
2. Try to keep the client on an even emotional keel and avoid characterizing the actions of the other party,
opposing lawyers, and judicial officials in emotional terms.
3. Be aware of counseling resources and be prepared to refer the client to counseling where appropriate.
4. Where a client has an exaggerated or unrealistic view of his or her options in any given situation,
explain matters as carefully as possible in order to assist the client to realistically assess the situation.
5. Respond promptly to client requests for advice or information.
6. Consider the availability and appropriateness of forms of alternate dispute resolution.
7. Where a client wishes to pursue a claim or motion for purely hostile or vindictive purposes, explain to the client the reasons why the client should not do so.
8. Do not assist a client in pursuing a claim for primary custody or visitation where the purpose of the claim is to obtain bargaining leverage in order to achieve a purely economic objective.
9. Avoid any communication to client about the judge,
the other lawyer, or the other party that will contribute to disrespect for the legal process.
10. Encourage clients to comply with all court orders.
Says the ABA: “These Standards address the responsibility of the family lawyer to be civil to clients, opposing counsel, and the Court. Civility is an important obligation of a lawyer.”