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Fierce Advocacy or Just Plain Rude?
A Case For Raising the Bar

"Rudeness is a weak man's imitation of strength."
- Eric Hoffer

Fierce advocacy is what we, as divorce lawyers, want to engage in is it not? At the same time the fierce advocacy can cross over the line into rudeness or be replaced with rudeness.

Hollywood often glamorizes and promotes winning the case through rudeness and incivility in our profession. It may be that some lawyers use as their models or mentors, the lawyers portrayed on television and movies. Great lawyering does not make great television. Great advocacy makes great lawyering.

It is important for us, as divorce lawyers, however, not to get rudeness and fierce advocacy mixed up.

As divorce lawyers, we continuously deal with conflict all day long. We have all gotten testy from time to time. Sometimes, that ongoing conflict, mixed with our baggage, can result in us not necessarily being the most polite or respectful. It is particularly challenging to take the high road all the time, particularly when someone is rude to us. This happens a lot in our profession. It happens a lot in our particular area of practice.

Being disrespectful or acrimonious, is, however, not great advocacy. Being discourteous does not serve us, and it certainly does not serve our clients. In the courtroom, judges are not impressed by it and are, in fact, often irritated by it.

Rudeness from lawyers is also the source of many complaints made about lawyers to our professional and governing bodies like the Law Society of British Columbia. Rude or discourteous behavior from a lawyer is the most common type of conduct about which people complain to the Law Society.

Fierce advocacy is awesome:

Recently, I was speaking with a self-represented litigant on a matter. I am his wife’s lawyer. His wife, my client, heard the conversation as I was speaking to the self-represented litigant on the phone. 

I was courteous to this self-represented litigant. I do not believe that behaving like a bully will move anything forward with my client's case. I was behaving respectfully not only because it is the right thing to do, but because doing so is better for my client's case. Why argue and fight about things when doing so is not necessary?

After the phone call, my client asked me if I was going to be able to represent her well in court. She was concerned that because I was polite to her ex on the phone that I was somehow not going to be able to represent her forcefully in court.

So, there is a huge myth to bust here.

Bullying does not make us great lawyers:

It is important for us to not get great advocacy and rudeness mixed up.

See, there is a lawyer in our city who is rude, belligerent, and patronizing to virtually everyone he comes across. He is like this to other lawyers, to self-represented litigants, to his staff, and to court personnel. It is my understanding that he has been reported to the law society for his conduct on many occasions.

He seems to have great advocacy and horrendous rudeness mixed up. Despite him often being often successful in relation to the positions he takes, he is often successful at great expense to his clients, to his staff, and to himself. He has been practicing law for, like 30 years,  and I am continually surprised he has not yet died from a heart attack due to the ongoing stress he pumps onto himself and the world around him. When I deal with him, I tell myself "Rudeness is a weak man’s imitation of strength."

I compare this to another lawyer in our city. This lawyer has also been practicing for more than 30 years. He is respectful to everyone with whom I have ever seen him interact. He comes across as calm. For his clients, he is a superb advocate. He gets great results. He gets the job done for his clients in a very effective way and only goes to court when he has to. 

Now although I would not be described as "calm" by anyone, it is my view that being an effective lawyer does not mean being effectively rude. I have also certainly been guilty of being rude in the past. It is my goal to avoid being rude in future.

When we are rude and are triggered personally by what is happening in our case, we become less effective as lawyers. In order to not become triggered, we have to ensure our mental and emotional houses are in order (so to speak).

Fierce advocacy for our clients means representing them without lowering ourselves to petty exchanges.

My suggestion is that we raise the bar in terms of how we deal with our colleagues, opposing parties, and all others we come across in our profession. 

Written by Val Hemminger, divorce lawyer, who believes in fierce advocacy and who also tries her very best not to be rude. She admits she is far from perfect on this front.

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.