Civility

Lost nationally but found at the CAALA Convention

Stuart Zanville
2019 September

If you pay any attention to current events, this will not be a surprise: Our national dialogues have evolved from reasoned discussions to partisan, mean-spirited diatribes. We have lost our Civility.

As Executive Director of CAALA, I talk to many trial lawyers and judges. I even have periodic discussions with defense attorneys. Many of them tell me that they are concerned about the lack of Civility they see in the legal profession.

As the nation’s largest local plaintiff trial lawyer association, Civility has always been important to CAALA.

Our roots go back to 1949, and the mission statement then specifically stated that one of the original purposes was “the elevation of the standards of integrity, honor and courtesy in the legal profession.”

Raoul Magana, one of the founding members of the organization, wrote that “Invective, bitterness, denigration of the position of the advocate has no place in a courtroom.”

CAALA is an association that only represents Civil Plaintiff Trial Attorneys. It’s part of our history and it is memorialized in our Bylaws and membership criteria. CAALA was, is and always will be a Plaintiff Trial Lawyer Association.

For many years CAALA has strived to improve Civility in the trial bar by presenting events and programs attended by CAALA members and members of LA-ABOTA and the Association of Southern California Defense Counsel. The signature example of that type of event is the CAALA annual convention. If you are attending this year’s convention, look around and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition to thousands of CAALA members and members of other plaintiff trial lawyer associations, attendees include judges, legal professionals, law students and attorneys whose clients are not plaintiffs in civil cases.

Because both sides of the trial bar are at the Convention, judges attend. This year 13 jurists are speaking on panels, including nearly all the current leadership of the L.A. Superior Court. Last year more than 40 sitting judges attended the Convention.

The Judges know that the Convention exemplifies Civility among attorneys.

Current LASC Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile often speaks about the importance of Civility in the Courtroom and between opposing counsel. Brazile’s predecessor, Judge Dan Buckley, agreed and wrote that the CAALA Convention is a prime opportunity “to connect and break open the lines of communication between attorneys in a civil lawsuit.” He often said that the CAALA Convention lets attorneys have a cup of coffee or other beverage with their adversaries, and that “quite simply, we all will benefit from more Civility.”

Nick Rowley and Bob Simon, two of CAALA’s most popular and prominent younger trial attorneys, feel the same way.

Rowley is the 2018 CAALA Trial Lawyer of the Year and is one of the nation’s most accomplished and prolific trial attorneys. Simon is also highly successful and a visionary regarding changes in the practice of law. His law firm includes younger attorneys who are trend-setters in our Association.

Rowley spoke recently to CAALA’s Plaintiff Trial Academy; here are some of his comments on Civility.

What is it that makes a good trial lawyer? I thought that I had it all figured out in the beginning. I was angry, I was not a real reasonable lawyer to work with. I would fight with my opposing counsel. I would fight with the judge. I was difficult. The truth is I’m lucky to be here because at the beginning of my career I was uncontrollable. There were a number of judges throughout the years who pulled me aside and said ‘you’ve got a lot of passion, you’ve got to just tone it down. I’m not the enemy here.’ If you were to see me 19 years ago, I would not work with the opposing lawyer on anything. I would fight on every issue. Everything was a fight and it was really, really exhausting. I found there was an easier way to do this. Today I am different. I work things out with the opposing lawyer and when we go in front of the judges, they see we are working together and getting along. What I found over time is I had better results at trial. It finally clicked. The Love, Respect and Admiration I give to the jury, I do the same with opposing counsel. I truly believe the recipe is love and kindness for everybody.”

Simon’s law firm hosts the Justice Team Podcast, and recently one of the topics was Transitioning from Law School to Practice.

Here are some excerpts from the Podcast:

Don’t treat opposing counsel like an enemy combatant. A lot of young lawyers see opposing counsel, and they see an enemy. Young lawyers confuse aggression or acidity or venom with being a zealous advocate. You can be a zealous advocate without being a jerk. You need your opposing counsel to think of you positively. You need each other. Be nice, be professional. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness. You don’t need to have a chip on your shoulder. Keep it cool.”

We all agree there isn’t enough Civility in our national dialogues, but the same doesn’t need to be true in the Southern California legal community. For CAALA members and the attorneys from the other side, especially those at the CAALA Convention, it’s time to experience Civility firsthand.

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: stuart@caala.org.

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