In my opinion, the majority of the lawyers I work with on a daily basis are professional, hard working individuals who deserve a great deal of respect. Many are personal friends. Sometimes clients don’t understand why we attorneys are civil — even courteous — to opposing counsel. After all, the opposing lawyer represents a client that they may dislike or even hate. The client’s negative emotions for the opposing party can sometimes wrongly be transferred to opposing counsel.
The ethics rules require attorneys to be civil to each other and treat each other with respect. In fact, the Rules of Professional Conduct require that “The legal dispute of the client must never become the lawyer’s personal dispute with opposing counsel. A lawyer, moreover, should provide zealous but honorable representation without resorting to unfair or offensive tactics.”
In fact it is in a client’s interest for their attorney to have a good relationship with opposing counsel even if both lawyers adamantly disagree about the facts, the law and/or the application of the law to the facts. A good relationship reflects positively on the judiciary and allows for possible settlement of cases. It also helps when scheduling depositions, trials, etc.
I have heard individuals remark to their friends that they could not believe their lawyer was friends with opposing counsel. So I often tell clients that if you see me be polite, professional, etc. with opposing counsel or hold the door open for them, shake their hand, etc. — it is my duty to do so and it is in their best interest. This does not mean we cannot zealously advocate for our clients, it just means we should do so in a professional manner.
Once several years ago perhaps the advocacy had gotten too intense and my partner joked about how I would handle an encounter with opposing counsel where we were to meet with loaded shotguns and hunt quail. The fact that we can get “fired up” about our client’s issues and the law after a ruling is entered, have coffee or go hunting demonstrates the professional manner in which the judiciary must function.
My pet peeve, however, are the attorneys who rarely respond to a settlement offer, telephone call, letter, etc. before the day of trial. That requires us to fully prepare for trial and usually gets our clients ready to “fight” no matter what deal is put on the table. And some members of the bar show up on the date of trial and seek settlement. It is also our duty under the Rules of Professional Conduct to have full and frank settlement discussions. We attempt to do this in every case.
Lawyers are not perfect but the failure of one to follow the rules does not justify lesser conduct.