The Importance of Civility in the Law
On Tuesday, April 5, 2016, attorney Samuel A. Segal of the Law Offices of Samuel A. Segal sat on a panel hosted by the Massachusetts Bar Association at the Boston College School of Law in Newton, MA dedicated to practicing law with civility and professionalism. Also sitting on the panel were honorable Judge Bill Sullivan of the Plymouth Superior Court, Judge Mary Beth Heffernan of the Newton District Court, Judge Edward Boyle of the Plymouth Probate and Family Court, and legal aid attorney Melina Munoz.
Personal injury law, like most litigation, is an adversarial process in which two sides are pitted against each other. On my side is the injured plaintiff, on the other is the responsible party: the defendant. It is my job and my duty to advocate on behalf of my injured client, the same as it is the job of defense counsel to advocate on the part of the defendant. However, zealous advocacy does not require, and in fact may be hindered by, uncivil and unprofessional conduct.
As the many learned and experienced judges on the panel discussed, civility in our field and in litigation leads to better results than confrontation and obstinacy. The point of our legal system is to obtain justice. As the attorney representing injured clients, my job is to ensure that my clients receive a fair and equitable recovery under the law. To that end, we have a system that gives both parties a fair opportunity to learn the evidence and present it to a jury.
Advocacy, however, should not be confused with bullying. Typically, litigation is expensive and time-consuming. Those costs are eventually passed onto our clients. Settlement, the resolution of the claim to the satisfaction of both parties before a jury trial and judgment, is typically preferred. This can save time and money for all parties, but settlements can be made impossible if the parties have taken unassailable positions opposed to each other. Good will between the parties is often the key to unlocking a successful settlement.
The practice of law, therefore, relies as much on our skill as advocates as it does our ability to nurture that good will and keep open the lines of communication between the parties to allow for settlement negotiations to occur.
In my personal injury practice, I spend the majority of my time communicating information to insurance adjusters and developing the facts to maximize my client's recovery. Developing a good reputation and rapport with those people, who are just doing their jobs the same as we are, is key to building the trust and confidence necessary to reach a just and reasonable settlement. It is when these lines of communication fall apart that all parties suffer. Both the injured person and the defendant will be stuck with large expenses to repay at the conclusion of lengthy litigation, and neither side will likely be satisfied with the outcome.
As lawyers, we have Rules of Professional Conduct that we must follow. Lesser known, but perhaps just as important, we also have a set of Voluntary Civility Standards. These may be voluntary in that there is no explicit punishment for failing to follow them, but they should be considered mandatory for any attorney who wants to successfully represent clients in personal injury matters.
It was an honor to sit with my fellow members of the bar and esteemed jurists to discuss these important issues with lawyers-to-be. Litigation is a contentious field, but that doesn't mean it needs to be acrimonious. Oftentimes, such an attitude will be counter-productive to our client's interests, and representing those interests is our number one priority.
Attorney Samuel A. Segal has more than five years experience representing injured persons in their claims for bodily injuries. If you or a loved one has been injured, please do not hesitate to contact attorney Segal at 617-383-3542 for a free consultation to see if you or they have a claim for compensation.