Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Answering Disrespect with Respect

We all have our techniques for treating each other professionally and with civility.

During World War II, Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill had a difficult relationship, at best.  The more abuse that Mr. Stalin heaped upon Mr. Churchill, the more correct, if not cordial, the Prime Minister was towards him. When asked why he did not respond to Mr. Stalin’s abuse in kind, Mr. Churchill is said to have replied that if he descended into the gutter with Mr. Stalin nothing that needed to get done would get done.  Observers at the time noted that when Mr. Churchill refused to rise to Mr. Stalin’s bait, the Russian leader would settle down and get to the business at hand.

This lesson from history can reap dividends in the quest to keep the practice of law a civil profession.

For example, a very simple technique that attorneys can adopt is to never use the last name of opposing counsel, staff, or clients without putting a Mr., Ms., or Mrs. in front of it—or at least the person’s first name. It is never “Doe,” but rather Mr. (or Ms. or Mrs.) Doe or John or Mary Doe. Showing the same respect for others involved in the process, such as the judge, court administration, court reporters and the like, sets the right tone both for your staff and for you.

And that respect, in turn, will keep most civil cases more civil than they might otherwise be. After all, if it worked for Winston Churchill, it is likely to work for us.

Michael J. Ford

Quinlivan & Hughes, PA

St. Cloud

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