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In a recent phone call I had with an adversary, after I failed to accede to his demands, he called me a jerk and hung up. While I’d like to think he was offering a flattering comparison to Navin Johnson from Steve Martin’s classic The Jerk, something tells me that wasn’t the case. He made matters worse when he later tried to deny the incident, and was promptly called on it by the three other lawyers who were on the phone.

Here’s another: While waiting in court recently for my case to be called, I had the opportunity to watch argument on a motion. Although the case presented interesting substantive issues, the judge didn’t seem particularly interested in them. Instead, he focused on a letter that one of the lawyers wrote to his adversary. In response to inquiries from the movant, the respondent’s counsel wrote that it was “none of your business.” The respondent lost.

A number of tips emerge from these stories:

  1. Be civil. If common sense does not itself dictate that you should avoid personal insults, many of the jurisdictions and courts in which we practice have promulgated standards of civility or professionalism for lawyers.
  2. Be particularly careful what you say in emails or in front of third parties. Assume any communication will show up as an exhibit somewhere down the line.
  3. Finally, get away from those cans!