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Bar News - October 18, 2013

From the NHBA List Serve: What Should I Call You?

After Concord attorney Josh Gordon referred to opposing counsel as "brother" during a recent hearing, New Hampshire Superior Court Judge Michael Ryan issued an order that included the following: "The court requests that at the final hearing, neither counsel refer to opposing counsel as ‘brother.’ This is an antiquated vestige of a bygone era in judicial history and should be left there. So ordered."

When Gordon inquired, "What am I supposed to call you?" of his fellow New Hampshire lawyers via the NH Bar Association Family Law Section list serve, a long and fascinating conversation ensued. Here are a few of the highlights, published with the permission of the authors.

The lengthy thread on the list serve also explored whether attorneys’ names should be followed by "Esq." and whether "Attorney so-and-so" is a proper way to address a colleague in court. Do you have a comment to add? Send it to

I recall trying a criminal case in Ayer District Court in the early 1980’s, where a female DA complained to the judge that I had referred to her as "my sister." The issue became more complicated when me client then said to me, ‘How can I get a fair shake, when the DA is your sister?’
– Joseph Caulfield

I don’t mind being called ‘sister,’ but I do find it happens much less often than it used to (I’ve been practicing for 27 years now). It usually happens with older gentlemen, and it does cause confusion with my clients. But I kind of like it – I have never been offended.

I was only offended when opposing counsel referred to me as a "skirt" (that happened in Superior Court in Massachusetts), and the judge gave the attorney an earful, thank goodness! I would have been hard pressed to keep my mouth shut if he hadn’t!
– Linda O’Connell

I never liked being called a lawyer’s "sister." I thought it was a little creepy (especially when I was a new lawyer and the person calling me "sister" was a male lawyer 30 years older than me), but I understand [the] point about the collegial aspect of doing so…
– Christine Gordon
(No relation to Josh Gordon)

Although I have been practicing a mere 20 years, I, for one, never felt comfortable with the terms "brother" and "sister." I have never referred to counsel as my brother or sister and always felt odd when they referred to me as brother or sister... I don’t think the terms are widely used any longer, and for that reason, really do not think an order is needed to prevent (or authorize) their use. I refer to counsel as "counsel" or by their names.
– Cathy McKay

This is but another example of, and problem with, "political correctness" (also known as tyranny of the majority)… As a new lawyer way back when, I remember the honor I felt being able to sit ‘inside the bar’ at the old Rockingham County Superior Court with so many iconic figures (Richard Galway, Jack Middleton, Bruce Felmly, Clifford Ross, and so many more). I had a hearing with Dort Bigg, who called ME "my brother." I felt proud, honored and humbled being a member of a select and honorable profession.
– F. Michael Keefe

Here’s a new idea. We all have doctorate degrees. Why aren’t we called "Doctor so-and-so?" People with MDs are referred to as "doctor," and so are people with PhDs.
– Dawn Worsley


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