When I first began practicing law in North Carolina, one of my primary mentors told me about a policy he followed concerning filing sanction motions against an opposing attorney. His practice was to invite an opposing lawyer to lunch before potentially filing a motion for sanctions against that attorney. The primary reason for this policy was to ensure that you had considered the position and other potential facts and circumstances from opposing counsel — the rest of the story — before filing any pleading that accused another lawyer of improper conduct. It has the beneficial effect of potentially preserving an important professional relationship.
In the many years since getting that excellent advice, I have followed it and fortunately have never filed a motion for sanctions against an opposing attorney. However, I’ve also expanded the principle to include other types of communications. For example, before sending a letter or email to opposing counsel that might suggest some sort of improper conduct, I’ve strived to speak with the attorney either in person or at least by phone. I can’t say that this prevented me from sending every adverse communication over the years. There have been too many instances to count, however, where I was very glad that I reached out to make that personal contact. In many instances, I never sent the planned letter, email, or other communication. In contrast, on the occasions where I have sent that type of accusatory communication without making personal contact, I typically regretted it and wished that I reached out first.
While this principle is not perfect, I believe that if opposing lawyers would have more personal communications, including going to lunch or some other direct personal communication, there would be much less acrimony and fewer unprofessional exchanges among lawyers. It is simply harder to file pleadings and send other communications making allegations against an attorney that you know personally. Additionally, understanding others’ positions and being empathetic is a critical part of being a successful attorney.
I have strived to be like several of my mentors, who treated all lawyers and everyone else involved in the legal and judicial process with respect and professionalism. Taking a lawyer to lunch, or otherwise having direct personal communication, before making any professional accusation is certainly a good way to start. I encourage you to pass it forward and give it a try.