Oregon Train Cell Phone User and the Legal Profession Could Both Use a Dose of Confucian Civility

An interesting article just crossed my desk.

It’s about civility in the practice of law — specifically, a particular state bar’s ethics rules regarding professional conduct.

In short, the article states that attorneys have a professional responsibility for civility and to avoid conduct that is unprofessional.  Lawyers should steer clear of offensive conduct and be kind to one another.

So this is where we’ve arrived — essentially, we need to have rules and regulations defining the requirement of civility in the world.

It is interesting this article should come to my attention on the same day I read with interest a story on the Internet about an Oregon woman who was asked to leave a Salem-bound Amtrak train after talking on her cell phone for sixteen hours.

That’s right.  Sixteen hours.  And it was a quiet car.

She claims she was disrespected.

So, it’s obviously not just in the legal profession where we are left shaking our collective social heads in disbelief.  It seems like common courtesy has given way to a more entitled type of mindset where we believe we can act however we would like, until someone tells us otherwise — and when they do, we take offense.

Civility is not about never using a cell phone.  Legal professionalism doesn’t mean we make the other side’s case for them to the detriment of our clients.  And courtesy doesn’t mean laying your jacket over a puddle for every woman crossing the street.

These terms could mean these things, but they don’t have to mean these things.

Instead, civility, professionalism, and courtesy are about thinking about the other person, much in the vein of Confucius’s silver rule: don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.

Think about that.  The silver rule doesn’t advocate active doing, but taking a step back and considering.  Don’t just treat people how you want to be treated (the golden rule), but also take a moment and think about how your particular actions, preferences, and idiosyncrasies might affect someone else’s day.

Before you go off on a tirade on opposing counsel, as is your usual custom, count to ten, get it together, and make a calm request for what you want.  If you don’t mind cell phone noise, consider how the other folks in the quiet car feel about it before you chat for too long.

Regulations do not make someone civil.  Conscious behavior does.  Maybe the next time you book a train trip, share a car with Confucius.

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