Civility in the Digital Practice of Law

By Jennifer L. Colagiovanni posted 11-05-2018 09:43


Like most professionals, attorneys are increasingly communicating with clients, colleagues, and opposing counsel electronically, which raises the question of whether civility has (or has not) transferred to the digital practice of law. Ever-increasing electronic communications can distance us from each other and in some cases, eliminate the courtesies that were once commonplace. We see this regularly in the harsh tweets and cyberbullying reported on the news. But are we also seeing it in the practice of law, where we are doing more and more from behind a computer screen? Are we losing the human touch of lawyering? Consider a few tips for increasing civility in your law practice:

Pick up the phone. Tone is easily lost in e-mails. And (unfortunately) it tends to be easier to type something snarky or rude from behind a keyboard than to say it to someone directly.

Respond to communications in a timely fashion. Quickly respond to e-mails or messages, even if it is just to let the person know when they can expect a substantive response. We are all inundated with e-mails these days, but it is what you would want someone to do if you were waiting on the other end.

Grant extensions or courtesies when possible. As long as it does not adversely impact your client’s interests, accommodate requests for extensions of time when possible. You set a tone of cooperation, and you never know when you may be the one asking for additional time. Take this one step further: if you are the side requesting an extension, is an e-mail request easier for opposing counsel to deny? Consider calling the other side to ask for an extension—then following up with a confirming e-mail, of course!

While nothing earth shattering, it is hard not to agree that attorneys (and all humans for that matter) are still best served by applying the Golden Rule in our interactions, electronic or otherwise, with one another.