Bar News - January 15, 2014
President's Perspective: More Meeting, Less Tweeting: A New Year’s Civility Wish
By: Jaye Rancourt
I once represented a young man accused of a crime that began in an Internet chat room. For the purposes of sentencing, our expert prepared a report for the court explaining that people sometimes assume a persona online that is not indicative of their “real world” personalities. Since that time, I have heard of this type of thing happening numerous times. I have read that this may be a symptom of less face-to-face contact and more virtual interaction.
While some of us might consider this to be a phenomena that is affecting the younger generations, I see similar trends in the legal community. As we rely more and more on the use of technology to interact with each other (emails, list serves, social media, and online CLE programs) are we losing the benefits of face-to-face communication? And if we are losing the benefits of real-world contact, does that affect the civility of our professional interactions?
It might seem easy to criticize another attorney in a list serve posting, particularly if the poster hasn’t met the other attorney and has no personal connection with him or her. It is often much more difficult to be critical when forced to confront someone in person.
We have all experienced the “sent too quickly without reflection” email. It is inevitable that our initial reaction to something like that may not be the most civil and professional reaction we can muster. The ability to immediately respond via email exacerbates this problem as this medium does not require us to be reflective. We can simply type up our first and immediate response, hit the send button, and off it goes. If we dictated a letter, proofread the letter, signed the letter, and put it in the mail, we would have many more opportunities to think about our message before it is received.
I once heard a now-retired NH Supreme Court justice provide a group of new lawyers with some practical pointers. One of the things he stressed was word choice in pleadings and being thoughtful and reflective about the words we use. He gave the example that we should not ever say that another attorney has “misrepresented” a fact, unless we are absolutely certain that attorney was not telling the truth… That is what the word means. As we all know, this is a very serious accusation, particularly when made in communications with the court. But these days, the word “misrepresented” appears in pleadings so often that perhaps we have become desensitized to its true meaning.
More face-to-face socializing and communication may be just the thing we need to bring civility back and/or keep it strong in our profession. At professional and social gatherings, in the real world, we get to know each other for our “real world” personalities, not our profile pictures. Let’s make it a New Year’s resolution to get together more often and exchange harsh words less often. I’ll make it my New Year’s wish. Hey, it’s not world peace, but it’s a start.
Editor’s note: The NHBA 2014 Midyear Meeting will be a great place to do just that. Learn more.