The courtroom is frequently regarded as a battlefield where only the strongest survive in legal disputes. However, it’s important for members of the bar to remember the importance of civility even in the most hotly contested litigations. Practicing law involves upholding justice, supporting moral principles, and developing a supportive legal community. This viewpoint has been supported for a long time by Jeffrey H. Zaiger, a litigator and founding partner of Zaiger LLC. Zaiger promotes a legal approach that strikes a balance between fervent advocacy and the highest standards of professionalism, drawing on his vast experience in federal and state courts as well as arbitration processes.
This method goes beyond theory. In a recent case under U.S. District Judge Ana C. Reyes, the lack of decorum — and the needless expense it involved — was brought into sharp relief. The dispute revolved around procedural minutiae. One lawyer requested a concise supplemental briefing for a case, and his adversary’s lawyer countered with a demand for an alternate hearing date to suit her client’s schedule. This seemingly simple negotiation devolved into a stubborn impasse, prompting Judge Reyes to criticize the lawyers for their unproductive and costly back and forth and noting the ineffectiveness of their squabbling in a case worth over $600 million.
Judge Reyes’s rebuke was unequivocal. She was baffled by the lawyers’ inability to reach a compromise over matters that were trivial in the broader context of the case. Given their high hourly charges, the Judge reprimanded the lawyers for their poor business practices, emphasizing that their actions resulted in a considerable loss of client funds.
Though necessary to judicial proceedings, the combative nature of courtrooms doesn’t need to turn into animosity or personal grudges. In addition to taking attention away from pertinent legal matters, the intensification of hostile strategies and derogatory remarks erodes the dignity of the profession.
As Zaiger points out, “The essence of good sportsmanship — a respect for the opponent, adherence to rules, and recognition of fair play — should not just be applied in athletics but also in the legal arena, where the stakes include justice and societal order.” Cultivating a hostile legal culture not only makes prospective litigants less likely to pursue justice but also erodes public trust in the legal system as a fair and reasonable adjudicator of conflicts.
“Civility is neither a call for passive submission nor a refusal to stand up for one’s client’s rights. It is, instead, an appeal for legal argumentation to be conducted with tact, deference, and maturity,” Zaiger emphasized. Every lawyer is expected to protect the integrity of the legal system and contribute to its development. By embracing civility, lawyers can serve their clients’ best interests while advancing the cause of justice.
Moreover, a more civil legal culture has practical benefits. Zaiger added, “When lawyers engage with each other respectfully, they are more likely to reach amicable settlements, reducing the burden on an already overtaxed judiciary.” Creating long-term professional relationships can also be advantageous in future cases. With civility as a strategic asset, a lawyer’s effectiveness will be enhanced, and a more cooperative and efficient legal process will be built.