If you spend any time on social media these days, you may have noticed how irritable folks are. There are lots of reasons for it, of course. We live in stressful times. Practicing law has always been a high-stress endeavor as far as professions go; thus, cries for more civility in the practice of law have been going on for many years and likely will continue to go on for many more years to come.
I’ve offered before on this blog my overarching “don’t be an ass” theory as it relates to practicing law but lawyers are people and people are people, so … sometimes people don’t get along.
There have been two relatively recent examples of lawyers not getting along, actually getting into dust-ups that have become pretty high-profile (or at least they were a few weeks ago) and that seem pretty hard to believe all involved wouldn’t wish for a chance at a simple do over.
One of them was talked about most frequently as being a coffee fight, but reads more like something that was already in the problem range before the hurling of coffee ever came into the picture. The dispute happened during a deposition so in addition to the he said/she said aspects of what went down, there was a court reporter present. The court reporter’s version of events grabs parts of each of the competing stories and likely gets the closest to the accurate version of events — the coffee was iced coffee and it likely was hurled at the other lawyer. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s really bad behavior but at least it makes it much less likely that anyone was at risk of burns from scalding coffee. You can read about all the various filings and back and forth here, here, here, and here if you’d like.
The other dispute that got lumped into my reading pile with the java jousting is both more and less bizarre at the same time. As it all appears to turn over false allegations about how one lawyer acted upon learning about the existence of a nut allergy on the part of another lawyer’s paralegal. You can read a bit more about that weirdness here.
Interestingly (although maybe that’s the wrong choice of word), assuming away any criminality in any of the conduct), the ethics rules that often come into play in dust-ups of these sorts are RPC 3.4 (at least as to the parts of them that relate to battles over obstructionist discovery tactics and the like), RPC 4.4(a)’s prohibition on using means when representing a client “that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass … or burden a third person,” and RPC 8.4(d) prohibition on conduct “prejudicial to the administration of justice.” Interestingly (and here it is definitely the apt word), the coffee fight at least contains some undertones of issues that might be in the wheelhouse of the ABA’s new RPC 8.4(g),
Speaking of disputes, but not disputes between lawyers and not disputes involving the weaponizing of any ingestible foodstuffs, I will be doing a national teleseminar tomorrow along with Sue Friedberg who serves as Associate General Counsel of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney on “Ethics and Disputes With Clients.” You can sign up for it through a number of different channels (check with your local bar for example) like through this link in Oregon or this link in Nebraska or this one in Missouri.