Incivility has been defined as the lack of civility or courtesy, rudeness. An impolite or uncivil act or remark.
From the above incivility represents everything that is not civility. It is the opposite of treating others with courtesy, dignity and respect.
Furthermore the rules of professional conduct for legal practitioners in Nigeria provides in Part C of its section 26:
Lawyers are to treat one another with respect, fairness, consideration and dignity and shall not allow any ill-feeling between clients to influence their conduct and demeanor towards one another or opposing clients.
Most law students have fairy tale fantasies about law practice and how an ideal lawyer should conduct himself. We all believe (although erroneously) that a big shot lawyer must be a Travis-Tanner type lawyer (assuming you’ve watched Suits) cantankerous, obnoxious and overtly rude. Lawyers we believe must be argumentative and love to argue with rivals at every street corner on every irrelevant point, exchange verbal blows and somehow win from a losing position.
We have it backwards then. Law students and lawyers must realize that incivility among lawyers can boomerang on the lawyer himself, his clients and the entire legal profession. When lawyers treat each other poorly and outrageously then the public will be more than entitled to look down their nose at the legal profession with mistrust and disdain.
Law students must realize that lawyers can treat opposing counsel with courtesy and decorum while still providing vigorous and robust adversarial representation for their clients. Law students are to understand that interaction and cooperation between opposing counsel are crucial in litigation especially in areas of discovery of documents. In Nigeria for instance in the course of court litigation, a legal practitioner may require an opposing counsel to deliver documents in his possession that are relevant to his case. Imagine if both counsels were at loggerheads that would create a lot a bad blood between them and you can be sure one will be reluctant to deliver those documents in his possession that will aid the other party’s case. The result will be a drawn out or protracted court case which could mean an increase in legal costs to a client.
Opposing lawyers need cooperation in litigation in scheduling hearings and any needless disagreement between them on this can also lead to protracted litigation in court and the filing of endless motions. Again opposing lawyers may also interact and cooperate with each other when both clients agree an out of court settlement will be better serve the justice of their case.
Law students soften then. Litigation need not be the all-out-war people will have us think. With civility and decorum shown by opposing counsels, litigation in court could be half the trouble.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LL.B from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
To get in touch, follow him on social media.