Posted by: Jarom Whitehead on Nov 18, 2019
Be Nice.
I took a call recently from a lawyer defending several cases I’m working on. I’ll forego names and just say that this attorney is well known. After explaining to me that an extension was needed, to which I replied “of course”, there was a long pause. I was then told, a bit sheepishly it seemed, that a motion was also being filed. My response to that must’ve been much kinder than expected because relief was palpable on the phone. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised at that. My first thought was, am I normally that much of a jerk over such things? We talked briefly about it and what I heard didn’t totally surprise me, but it did get me thinking.

This lawyer’s experience with the plaintiffs’ bar has been pretty dismal of late. It is all-too-common in the present climate to feel like our interactions with other members of our profession are adversarial and contentious all the time. Not just in court in the heat of battle, but on the phone or in correspondence regarding little things like scheduling. It permeates everything like a cancer. And like cancer, left untreated it grows and consumes. I have experienced this myself in interactions outside of Idaho and our relatively collegial bar. But that seems to be changing.
I heard a great speech by ITLA past-president Tim Gresbeck some time ago and in it he talked about maturing in the practice of law. How, as a young lawyer, he treated everything like a fight to be won or lost. It was exhausting, he said. After my phone call I thought about the interactions I’ve been having at work and at home and came to the conclusion that I can do better. Nice, pleasant, polite, courteous, kind and respectful. These qualities can be summed up as civility. I don’t think there is any dispute that people we come into contact with prefer it. There are volumes written on civility and ‘catching flies with honey’ and all that. But what does it do for us directly? Other than potentially avoid the adoption of not-so-nice nicknames among our peers, consider this: How nice we are directly impacts our own stress levels. It impacts our own health.

You don’t have to be in this profession very long to hear the word “burnout” or understand the stresses of the work. One thing you may not realize is that practicing civility is a pretty good antidote to burnout. Burnout is a syndrome characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced personal and professional accomplishment. We know that burnout is at epidemic proportions now in the practice of law. You can change this. Not only is it possible to deliberately increase civility, but doing so can lead to an enduring change in your own happiness with your work and reduced stress. That’s right… simply increasing how courteous and thoughtful your interactions are can reduce stress and ultimately prevent burnout. For some people you come into contact with, this might take considerable effort to implement. Believe me, I completely understand. The reality is, it is worth it. And like Tim said, not being civil is exhausting. Do your health a favor and be nice.