When Lawyers Behave Badly:
Judges Talk

When lawyers behave badly, judges talk about it. I was at a Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia (great organization by the way) lawyer retreat. I had the opportunity to hear a retired Supreme Court Justice speak.

This former Supreme Court judge had lots of gems of wisdom.

One of the big ones is that she says judges talk. They talk just like lawyers talk. They talk about their cases. They talk about the litigants. Most significantly, they talk about the lawyers who appear in front of them. She says that judges are not at all impressed by rudeness or lack of courtesy in the courtroom. They find it irritating, and they find it takes away from the lawyers' ability to advocate on behalf of their clients.

Judges don't like rude lawyers. Judges don't like discourteous behaviour. When lawyers behave badly, judges can't stand it. 

When Lawyers Behave Badly . . . 

In the practice of family law, I think we have all been guilty of misbehaving at one time or another. Okay, I will speak for myself. Sometimes another lawyer has gotten under my skin. Sometimes the other lawyer in a case drives me crazy. Sometimes, I have been unable to keep my feelings of dislike for them to myself. Sometimes it is really clear that I do not like the opposing counsel. 

I remember on one occasion a judge said to me and the opposing lawyer "Okay, okay, I know you are both really angry with one another, however . . . " 

In retrospect, this comment, coming from the bench, is embarrassing. We have all come across lawyers that we can't stand or that we find ridiculously unreasonable. The point is that we have to do our best to ensure that the other lawyer does not get under our skin. We need to combat abrasive counsel with generous helpings of collegial respect.

The flip side is also true. Judges appreciate when counsel are well-mannered. 

I recall a case where I was doing a Supreme Court trial. Although the case was a very hard fought case, the relationship between the other lawyer and I was civilised. The court very much appreciated the distinction between the challenging facts of the case and the fact that counsel remained courteous. 

On another occasion, I decided to treat another lawyer that I didn't like with total kindness. I felt I was literally killing her with kindness. The result? I actually started to like her. She became a friend. 

So, I guess this is a good lesson for us.

By Val Hemminger, who hopes she is a better behaving lawyer these days.

Val has created this website to share with her colleagues. She is not suggesting, by any means, that she is the best divorce lawyer out there. She is, however, suggesting that she is the best divorce lawyer that she herself can be. Feel free to share anything you find useful.