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Bar News - November 15, 2013

President’s Perspective: Take a Deep Breath and Try the Pizza Dough Approach

A couple of months ago I passed through Court security, in a Courthouse I frequent, with a bag of frozen pizza dough in my bag. The bailiff asked me, out of curiosity, “Jaye, what is that in your bag?” My response, as if it were nothing: “oh, that’s just frozen pizza dough.” It would take too long to explain why it was there, I said.

Why did I have frozen pizza dough in my bag? The short answer is that the only way I could get the pizza dough thawed out for dinner while at the same time preventing it from rising too much on the kitchen counter, and get to court, my office, three meetings, and pick up my son from preschool, was to carry the pizza dough with me throughout my morning in court.

I tell this story to highlight that, like most practicing attorneys, I have a life outside of my lawyer persona that requires me to juggle like a clown with Barnum & Baileys. On most days, I am able to keep all those balls in the air. On some days, though, all the balls come crashing down on my head. It is those times, when the balls come crashing down, or the frozen pizza dough starts to thaw too much, getting my files all wet, that I pause to consider that each one of us, whether opposing party in litigation, judge on the bench, or colleague in our office, has a life outside of our lawyer lives and that keeping that in mind may help us to better relate to one another, and in a more civil and courteous manner.

Recently, I was sitting in on a focus group for the New Hampshire Bar Association’s strategic planning initiative. One of the participants said she wished the Bar Association did more to encourage civility in the practice of law. I agree. We should, as an association and as individuals, continue to encourage civil and courteous debates and litigation.

The attorneys I look up to and who have been my mentors are not the loudest, most aggressive, most hostile attorneys I know. The attorneys I admire and look up to are always respectful while being zealous advocates for their clients.

When a client calls my office and says he wants the most aggressive, take-no-prisoners, agree-to-nothing attorney he can find, I try to explain why that approach to litigation may not serve the client well. It will increase the cost of litigation, cause more anxiety, and potentially backfire, as bridges are burned and relationships are destroyed.

It’s very easy in this profession to become stressed. When we are stressed, we may lash out at one another, as we attempt to negotiate and advocate on behalf of our clients. The more stress, the more likely that we will lose our tempers, speak harshly, and file pleadings containing scathing and salacious language. I have fallen into this same cycle myself. It’s human nature.

Therefore, I propose a new approach. We’ll call it the pizza dough approach. When another attorney, client, pro se litigant, or judge speaks harshly to me, I will take a deep breath and tell myself, “maybe they have frozen pizza dough in their bag today.” Life is too short and too precious to be spending our days fighting with each other. We may disagree, we may litigate opposite sides of an issue, we may, at times, argue. But at the end of the day, we should be able to shake hands and go home to make the pizza.

Jaye Rancourt

Jaye Rancourt is the 2013-14 president of the NH Bar Association and practicees with the law firm of Brennan Caron Lenehan & Iacopino in Manchester.

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