Early on in my career, when I visited the office of a certain partner for whom I worked, I used to think of the 1980’s “Blown Away Guy,” the audio ad visual. No matter why I came into the office or no matter what we spoke about, it seemed that I would end up getting screamed at. It became a kind of internal joke: “What will set him off this time?”
An internal joke but not a funny one.
Is there a change in climate, though, a lower tolerance for screaming and other threatening conduct between lawyers (whether colleagues, support staff, or opposing lawyers), for physically intimidating others, or subjecting others to any kind of overt hostility? Survey says…..YES!
As “the brotherhood of the bar” opens further every day to include more diversity throughout the United States (and the world), the acceptance of blunt hostility, of outbursts, of rage, of physicality, of emotional insensitivity — to some, an noxious vestige of male-domination and male-entitlement, and, to some, nothing less than a culture of cruelty, violence, and abuse — may be dying out. We can only hope.
Minnesota Litigator was not present outside the courtroom in Pennsylvania when something happened between Minnesota lawyer Tom Hatch and New York lawyer Tammy L. Roy nor were we in the courtroom to hear witnesses recount what happened.
But clearly tempers flared and Pennsylvania (Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas) Sr. Judge R. Stanton Weddick (apparently a renowned e-discovery authority) concluded that Mr. Hatch went way too far. Judge Weddick concluded that Mr. Hatch’s pro hac vice admission, that is, his permission to appear before Judge Weddick in the lawsuit in Pennsylvania, was revoked.
Not being witnesses, it would be unfair to judge Mr. Hatch, or Ms. Roy, or Judge Weddick, for that matter. But there can be no doubt that all of them regret that this incident occurred, however differently it is portrayed, however differently it was experienced.
The incident should stand as a reminder to us all that clients hire advocates, in part for their legal expertise, in part for their judgment, more broadly, and, perhaps overlooked too often, in part because hiring lawyers puts emotional distance between hotly disputing parties. Clients rely on their lawyers to bring dispassionate problem-solving tools to sometimes difficult problems. “Zealous advocacy,” a common term in the law but actually a little controversial, should encourage tenacious, loyal, diligence for one’s client, but it cannot be used to justify any form of bullying, physically intimidating, or threatening behavior.
I have worked at several Twin Cities law firms over the past 17 years and a classic character actor in many law firms (in litigation groups and outside them) is the highly volatile lawyer. The same is true in workplaces everywhere, of course. But the law holds all people in our society to standards. And lawyers are charged with interpreting, understanding, and guiding clients in our world of laws. Lawyers must meet the frankly low standard of dispassionate advocacy and decent civil interaction and, if they cannot, they should get help and learn how to.