The embodiment of civility

Stuart Zanville
2017 September

The subject of this column is civility. But, I promise I won’t mention the name of the President of the United States. Although the temptation is great, that would be too easy. Besides, there’s nothing I can write that you haven’t already read.

Before I begin, if you’re reading this column at CAALA Vegas, I want you to do me a favor – Stop reading. Put down the magazine and take a moment to look around at the 3,000 people who are also attending CAALA’s signature event and annual convention. If you look closely, you’ll see CAALA attorney members, judges, legal service providers, legal staff, defense attorneys, corporate counsel, elected officials, public interest lawyers, government and municipal attorneys, law students and their professors.

Now, back to the column

The attendance at CAALA Vegas is a microcosm of the legal world. The primary focus will always be on the attorneys who proudly call themselves trial lawyers, but other attorneys are in attendance. Regardless of their practice, many of the attendees often find themselves on the other side of the table from their legal adversaries. Some go so far as to call their opposing counsel “the enemy.” They are wrong. In my thirteen years with CAALA, I have spoken with hundreds, maybe thousands of attorneys and judges. Most will tell you that characterization of the other side is not only wrong, it is detrimental to their practice. Most will tell you about the importance of civility in the courtroom and in the legal community.

Civility may be a lost art in the political world. (Thank you, Mr. President). But it isn’t forgotten in the world of the law. In 2014 the attorney oath for new lawyers was supplemented with the following: “As an officer of the Court, I will strive to conduct myself at all times with dignity, courtesy and integrity.”

Advocating civility in the Courtroom is nothing new. It’s been talked about for decades.

One of the most eloquent advocates of civility was the renowned plaintiff’s attorney and CAALA Hall of Fame member Raoul Magana. Magana passed away in 2007. Fifty years ago, he wrote “Respect and good manners are indispensable virtues of a trial lawyer. Denigrate no one. This is a dignified profession, not a business, and the more we can do to enhance its standing with our fellow lawyers and the public by forthright, honorable actions and demeanor, the better for everyone.”

Lawyers aren’t the only ones who feel that way. Judges do too. Many jurists have written in this magazine about the importance of civility between lawyers. Appellate Justice John Segal wrote: “The best trial lawyers I have been fortunate to see in action are forceful, persistent, tenacious, even a little confrontational when the stakes are high, but never mean. It may be that they know that treating litigants and lawyers respectfully, professionally and even nicely, pays off in the long run.”

If you have had the good fortune to hear L.A. Superior Court Presiding Judge Daniel Buckley speak to lawyers, you have heard him make the case for civility. He mentions it every time he speaks to attorneys or bar associations.

On Friday (September 1), Judge Buckley will speak at the annual CAALA member meeting during CAALA Vegas and I guarantee that civility will be part of his remarks. Three years ago, Judge Buckley wrote in the Advocate “CAALA is one of a number of organizations which emphasize civility at all events and in all publications. Unfortunately, civil judges will tell you that they do not feel that the message and lessons of civility are always finding their way into the courtroom.”

Judge Buckley has a recommendation about how to increase civility among lawyers. “If I could enact only one rule to deal with the challenges faced by the civil courts, it would be a very simple one: All attorneys must have a cup of coffee with their adversaries at the outset of the case. Of course, if the attorneys want to wait until the appropriate time, the drink of choice could be a beer or glass of wine.” Judge Buckley adds, “Why? We need to break open the lines of communication between attorneys in a civil lawsuit and insist that communication start at the beginning of the case.”

That brings us back to CAALA Vegas and the opportunity you have over the next four days to do exactly what Judge Buckley suggests. This is the perfect time and place.

CAALA Vegas is many things in addition to being the largest gathering of civil trial attorneys in the country. It’s about education and networking and great social events. It’s also an opportunity to hear more than 100 of the nation’s premier trial attorneys provide trial tips and strategy.

CAALA Vegas is also something else. It’s the personification of civility. It’s the real-time answer to Rodney King’s famous 1992 question, “I just want to say – you know – can we all get along? Can we, can we get along?”

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes; and CAALA Vegas proves it.

Stuart Zanville Stuart Zanville

Stuart Zanville is the Executive Director of the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA). Contact him at (213) 487-1212 or by e-mail:

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