Conflict is a part of the job in the legal world, but at least one high judge in Tennessee thinks it can’t hurt to emphasize the need for civility — even to his own colleagues.
“The popular media portrays the (legal) profession as adversarial — a lot of table pounding,” Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch said. “And there are going to be times when tempers might flare.”
It doesn’t always have to be like that, however, and “lawyers and judges need to be reminded of it,” Justice Koch said.
Chattanooga’s legal professionals, however, might be ahead of the curve in the civility department.
A recent yearlong “civility project” conceived and implemented by a local network of legal professionals won national recognition last week for its effort to help lawyers and judges become more aware of the local rules governing professional courtesy and conduct.
Justice Koch came to Chattanooga to present the award for “best special project” to Chattanooga’s American Inns of Court chapter, given each year by the national organization whose mission it is to promote skills and ethics among lawyers. There are about 350 American Inns of Court chapters across the nation.
The project involved the distribution among Chattanooga’s legal community of about 1,000 credit card-sized cards containing tidbits from the guidelines such as “be respectful” and “encourage courtesy.”
American Inns of Court chapter president Flossie Weill, a Chattanooga attorney, said the idea came about from the realization that many colleagues in town were unaware such guidelines even existed. It was U.S. District Judge Curtis L. Collier, she said, who suggested putting the information on cards.
Although a simple concept, David Akridge, deputy executive director of the American Inns of Court, said the project stood out because of its “tangible” effect on practicing attorneys.
“Anything we can do to actively promote (civility) is extremely valuable,” Mr. Akridge said.
Chattanooga lawyer Eric Burnette, who was on the committee to develop the civility project, agreed with Justice Koch that everyone needs a refresher course in civility once in a while.
“Sometimes we have to step back and remind ourselves that we need to be civil and we need to not take that adversarial role too seriously when dealing with our colleagues,” Mr. Burnette said.