I was walking my dogs when we stopped at the park which was chock full of children and other small dogs to my furry friends’ delight. We lingered about and I let the dogs do their thing while I talked to some of the other dog owners. I noticed a couple of things. The kids who were actively playing with other kids seemed to belong to parents who were also socializing with other parents. When something such as a cry or yell from a playing child alerted a parent, the parent would rush over. If the child had done something to misbehave, they would be disciplined. If the child had fallen and hurt themselves the parent would help them up and coax them back to smiles. The kids who were playing by themselves or being bullies did not receive much prodding from their parents who seemed to be buried in their cell phones. Something about the whole interaction told me there was a definite observable trend here which could be transplanted to the relationships and interplay between younger and more seasoned attorneys.
We learn by observation, tending to mimic those who are around us and most importantly those who we see as authority figures. As children it is our parents. As we grow older, we become influenced by a continuous line of authority figures such as coaches, professors and bosses. We begin to act like those around us because we view the behavior as acceptable.
As a young lawyer not only do we learn the law from our more seasoned colleagues and partners, depending on the type of law being practiced, but we also learn how to interact with those around us from them. Social cues are developed from our mentors out of admiration and respect.
We may take stances which we know in our guts aren’t right, but feel as if we have little choice in the matter. I sometimes wonder why some attorneys treat other attorneys so poorly or with little respect. Why do they think it is ok to litigate cases like the future of the country was at risk?
I have witnessed the bad kids on the playgrounds, ie the young associates in the courtroom or in depositions, who huff and puff and observed the transformation from newbies to mini-me’s of their partners. How did this occur? The behavior may be learned and condoned, and in some circumstances, expected. From the denial of routine extensions to complete re-writes of history in letter writing campaigns, this behavior can be witnessed. If professionalism in our practice is to reign supreme, undoubtedly it must start from the top. How do we begin to transform these bad behavioral habits? I open this one up for discussion. Ultimately, the norms in our legal culture can be deconstructed and reformed. We can change it if we try. The hardest part is taking a look at our behavior and asking ourselves who does this serve and does it serve my profession nobly.
Which brings me to my park observation. When we receive the proper professional guidance, and actually learn from it, our generation of young attorneys is better served. We will carry on those habits of civility and professionalism as we continue to practice. We can carry the torch and pass it along to the next generation. It is the only way to keep the flame alive. Nobody wants to be the bully in the park.