What goes around, comes around — Most people use this expression as a warning not to do bad things to others because a bad act may be done to you later in return. The same principle applies for acts of professionalism, but in a positive sense. Consistently treating others with professionalism most often pays off with professional acts extended back to you. This principle applies to actions toward clients, judges, staff, as well as opposing parties and counsel.
Portions of the Creed of Professionalism of the Wake County and Tenth Judicial District Bars is instructive on this issue:
To my colleagues in the practice of law, I offer concern for your welfare. As we work together, I will respect your personal and family commitments. I will share my learning and experience so that we may all improve our skills and abilities.
To the courts and to those who assist them, I offer respect, candor, and courtesy. I will respect and strive to improve the judicial process. I will serve as an officer of the court, encouraging respect for the law and avoiding the abuse or misuse of the law, its procedures, its participants, and its processes.
To opposing parties and their counsel, I offer honesty, fairness, and courtesy. I will seek truth and strive to resolve our clients’ disputes in a dignified manner. I will pursue the most efficient and least costly solutions to problems and avoid unnecessary delay.
Consider one not so hypothetical example: Attorney A and Attorney B are frequently opposing counsel in often hotly contested matters. Attorney B inadvertently files a pleading with the Court that is proper on its face but inconsistent with a prior discussion and agreement with Attorney A several months before. Rather than filing an accusatory motion or other responsive pleading and likely damaging their relationship, Attorney A contacts Attorney B and has a frank but professional discussion reminding him of the prior conversation and the inconsistent information in the document he filed with the court. As a result, Attorney B promptly files an amended pleading with the Court correcting the inadvertent error, obviating the need for what likely would have been a contentious court intervention on the issue. See also Rule 1.2(a)(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Fast forward about a year later in an entirely unrelated matter in which Attorney A and B again are opposing counsel. In this case, Attorney A files an appeal of an adverse decision to her client. However, a young associate in her office inadvertently misreads or misunderstands the requirements and serves opposing counsel but does not file the appeal within the time limit, as required in the applicable rule. Rather than filing a motion to dismiss the appeal, which likely would be denied based on excusable neglect, Attorney B convinces his client not to pursue the issue and to defend the appeal on the merits. Attorney B informs Attorney A after the decision has been made not to pursue a dismissal. Again, Attorney B’s professionalism and courtesy to Attorney A avoids potentially permanently damaging their ongoing relationship and eliminates the need for court intervention, without likely changing the result to his client.
In the future, you may find yourself in a situation like the above example, where you need an act of professionalism and courtesy from a colleague or opposing party. It’s yet one more reason to consistently act with professionalism in all your dealings with clients, colleagues and opposing parties and counsel. Remember the old saying: what comes around goes around – and that can be a good thing.