An editorial in the Chicago Tribune a few weeks back criticized a reporter for interrupting the president at a press conference, pointing out that such behavior is not only rude, but it debases the office of the Presidency. The office of the presidency, no matter the political party of the sitting president, deserves respect as the seat of democracy.
And that got me to thinking about our mission at the Commission on Professionalism to promote civility and integrity among lawyers. Promoting professionalism has nothing to do with politics, or the personal beliefs or opinions of lawyers, and everything to do with the responsibility of lawyers to honorably represent our clients and protect their rights to express their opinions. Respecting the right to express opinions does not necessarily mean we respect the opinions themselves.
Like heckling the president disses the office of the presidency, lawyers’ incivility to each other disrespects the entire profession. If lawyers don’t respect each other, how can we expect the public to respect lawyers?
I think about the medical profession and, in particular, my 89 year old father, a second generation Sicilian immigrant who never heard a word spoken in English at home yet put himself through college and medical school. As a surgeon, he often had consultations on patients’ condition and course of treatment. He often had disagreements with colleagues about the best course of treatment. Sometimes these conversations occurred at the patient’s bedside. Never, he told me, were differences of opinion expressed rudely or dismissively of a colleague’s opinion as a doctor. It would not be good for the patient’s health, for the individual doctors or for the medical profession.
And so it goes for clients, lawyers, and the legal profession…