Lawyers: Play Nice

Posted on Categories Federal Civil Litigation, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Ethics, Legal Practice

As you may have already seen, the blawgs have been discussing this recent order by United States District Court Judge Eric Melgren. Judge Melgren issued the order granting a motion for a continuance of a trial scheduled for June 14, 2011, in Kansas, after the defendant, a Dallas attorney,  sought the continuance on the grounds that his first-born son was due to be born on July 3, 2011. The judge expresses his dismay at the plaintiff’s attorneys’ decision to oppose the motion:

[I]n reviewing the motion the Court was more than somewhat surprised to read that “Plaintiffs have refused to agree to continue the trial setting and have indicated that they intend to oppose this Motion.”

Well, every party is entitled to file an opposition to a motion, and hoping that perhaps Defendants’ had mis-characterized the vigor of Plaintiffs’ opposition, we have eagerly awaited Plaintiffs defense of its opposition.  The Memorandum in Opposition arrived yesterday, and it was, sadly, as advertised.

The order goes on to shoot down the plaintiff’s attorneys’ arguments opposing the continuance, and ends with the suggestion that the opposing lawyer’s life priorities are out of whack:

Certainly this judge is convinced of the importance of federal court, but he has always tried not to confuse what he does with who he is, nor to distort the priorities of his day job with his life’s role.  Counsel are encouraged to order their priorities similarly.

It’s an interesting opinion (and charmingly written), and I forwarded it to my first-year legal writing students, because it is consistent with the approach to professionalism that I was trying to get across to them when we discussed ethics and advocacy. It is of course pleasant, and especially dramatic, that the order was written in the context of the joy of expecting a new child into the world. But most impressive to me is Judge Melgren’s weariness and disdain for the commitment to conflict that the opposition to the continuance seemed to illustrate:

“He who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” is one of every lawyer’s favorite proverbs. Among the several reasons why this is undoubtedly true, is that lawyers are trained to handle disputes skillfully but without the emotional rancor that will mask the actual parties’ reason and good sense. [footnote omitted]  Regrettably, many attorneys lose sight of their role as professionals, and personalize the dispute; converting the parties’ disagreement into a lawyers’ spat.  This is unfortunate, and unprofessional, but sadly not uncommon.

3 thoughts on “Lawyers: Play Nice”

  1. I had a case before then Circuit Court Judge Jon Wilcox. It was set for trial at a time that my wife was due, I believe it was our third child. I brought a motion to adjourn and lo and behold, the defense lawyer objected to it. So off we drive to Wautoma to argue the motion. Judge Wilcox denies the motion. I say to him “Judge, I mean no disrespect, but if my wife goes into labor during the trial, Im leaving, because whatever you can do to me isnt anywhere near as bad as what my wife will do to me if I’m not there when she is in labor and giving birth.” He relented.

  2. The lawyer/novelist Scott Turow has repeatedly expressed an affection for law and legal professionalism as ways to order human affairs. We surely benefit from having a legalistic culture. However, Turow has also bemoaned the way legal education and the legal discourse broadly understood convey “an ineradicable impression that it is somehow characteristically ‘legal’ to be hard and even brutal.”

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