Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

In response to a letter I wrote to her a while back our judicial district's Chief Administrative Judge invited me to a meeting of her committee on civility. It was an interesting group, and an interesting conversation. The issue is one that is a big deal with New York's Chief Judge, and the problem is that the lawyers who are the principal offenders are, almost by definition, oblivious to the concept. There was a fair amount of talk about what, exactly, can be done about incivility-- what sort of sanctions are or might be available, for example, but I think this largely misses the point. Sharp practitioners are recognized for what they are, and their reputations suffer accordingly. One effect that this has is that these lawyers find that the matters that they are handling are harder to handle. Courtesies that are otherwise routinely granted are not extended to such individuals, discovery responses are more carefully scrutinized, documents and details are haggled over-- everybody knows who the bad guys are, and nobody cuts them any slack. You know, like Tina Turner says, you can do things nice and easy, or you can do it rough.

It has not been my experience that this is a big problem around here. Predictably, the people at the table all thought that it is more of a New York City thing. I said nay, except perhaps in Brooklyn, where the atmosphere of judicial corruption has so pervaded the system that it is almost like practicing in the Third World. I didn't say the part about the Third World aloud, of course, but it is true-- Kings County is the only place I've ever been where I have seen a fist fight break out at a deposition, and the whole place is so inside baseball that it is hardly surprising that nobody much uses party manners. Christopher Ketcham has an interesting article about Brooklyn machine politics in this month's issue of Harper's. It is not online, unfortunately, but it is a must read for anyone interested in reforming this sort of thing.

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