The Atlanta Lawyer — January/February 2013 The Atlanta Lawyer
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Promoting Professionalism
Lynn M. Roberson

Swift Currie McGhee & Hiers LLP

The Atlanta Lawyer this month focuses our attention on the importance of promoting professionalism. I view this task as the primary role of our bar association. We have all dealt with those attorneys who make our professional lives more difficult deliberately – because somehow they believe that behaving in an obnoxious manner is somehow advantageous to their clients. Those misinformed attorneys are generally not active in the bar association. Every lawyer I know who is active in their bar association represents our legal community well. When one is well acquainted with the other members of our legal community, it is much more difficult to be a “difficult” lawyer. So get involved and improve upon your professional reputation!

If you are a younger lawyer looking for guidance on how top notch lawyers behave, the lawyers on our cover are a fine place to start. All of them are deserving recipients of our professionalism awards. And, of course, Abraham Lincoln is a recognized standard bearer for our beloved profession!

The primary way I have learned that we as practicing lawyers can keep our eye on the ball regarding professionalism is to communicate with our adversaries more. Judges complain to me frequently of the litigators in their courtrooms never communicating with each other except through formal discovery and motions which frequently can degenerate into spats which ultimately come to the judge’s attention in the form of discovery or other motions including mutual accusations of misbehavior. I have heard from these judges that such disputes are one of the banes of their existence.And let’s face it; they have lots of other difficult issues on their platters without having to deal with the squabbles of feuding lawyers.

I recall a case several years ago where I was dealing with an out of town lawyer (I am sure he wasn’t a member of the Atlanta Bar Association!) Who was nearly impossible to get on the phone. I was always routed to his “assistant.” I spoke to her and arranged for the plaintiff’s deposition, specifying that it should not start until 10:00 a.m. to allow me sufficient time to travel to her attorney’s office for the deposition. A Few days letter I received plaintiff’s written discovery to the defendant and a notice for my client’s deposition to be taken on the same date beginning at 9:00 a.m. in the opposing attorney’s office! I was really bent out of shape at the audacity of this move since my own client’s deposition had never been asked for nor discussed! So I called the attorney and spoke to his assistant and pointed out that 1) we had not discussed my client’s deposition and I had never agreed to make her available on that same date, 2) she was NOT going to be available on the same date, and 3) her deposition was NOT going to be taken in the opposing lawyer’s office.
Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from the lawyer faxed to my office decrying my obstreperous conduct and accusing me of refusing to participate in legitimate discovery. I was now really STEAMED! So I started drafting my letter back to the attorney when I noticed my computer was beginning to emit smoke and steam. I then reminded myself that I was speaking on a panel the next week at the Atlanta Bar Litigation Section’s seminar entitled, “We Can Work it Out,” so I should probably make another effort to work it out. I called the attorney and was lucky enough to be put through to the attorney (he probably instructed his staff to send me straight to him if I called now). I introduced myself and said, “I wonder if maybe we are getting off on the wrong foot here.” He agreed we probably were and we had a very agreeable chat and never had another difficult moment through the final resolution of the case. So the next time you feel your inner ogre getting the better of you, give it a try. Make that call.Do not rely solely on email, faxes and letters. They do not have that personal touch. It is so much more difficult to be a jackass in person or on the telephone! The judges and other attorneys will appreciate your efforts and your professional life will be much easier!

Another “trick of the trade” you can use is to “Take Your Adversary to Lunch” even if you do not do it as part of the Litigation Section’s annual February program. If you find yourself dealing with a lawyer with whom you are not familiar or with someone with whom you are having trouble getting along, call and invite him or her to lunch. Talk about your families and favorite pastimes or sports. You will find that This approach can ease your handling of the case and make life easier.

Finally, cut each other some slack! Even if you have a legal position that is strong, if you can give the other side the break they request without putting your client to any disadvantage, it will pay off dramatically in the long run, and maybe even in the resolution of that particular case.

Please take note of our newest Atlanta Bar staff members who have joined us in mid January – Terri Beck, who is going to take over from Diane O’Steen as our executive director come February 1, and Jessica Galusha, who will be taking over the reins as CLE director from retiring Mary Lynne McInnis. Both of these new folks have their work cut out for them but I have every confidence they will do a fine job helping us transition through the retirements of Diane and Mary Lynne. And, next time you see our new staff people, be sure to make them feel welcome to our bar family!