What Does Being Civil Have To Do With Family Law?

Everything! September 9th is being recognized as The Day of Civility and Professionalism by the Dallas Bar Association with a series of events. For more information, click here.

What is civility? As discussed in the link, it is nothing more than professional courtesy, respectful demeanor, or simply good manners. Things we should all do in our daily interactions, but also things which we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

In family law, this duty of civility to opposing counsel can sometimes be misunderstood by clients. Family law matters by their nature are intensely personal to those involved as they deal with the disruption of personal relationships. Understandably, clients may be experiencing a variety of feelings toward the other party such as anger, disappointment, and betrayal. Sometimes these feelings spill over to anyone associated with the other party, including his attorney, resulting in an “us” and “them” mindset.

So if the client’s attorney says a cordial hello or exchanges pleasantries with opposing counsel at the courthouse or a deposition, the client may perceive that if his attorney is being nice to one of “them,” then he is not one of “us.” From there, they may jump to the conclusion that ‘my lawyer isn’t really fighting for me because the only way my attorney can be truly advocating for me is if he has adopted all of my feelings toward the other party and his attorney and acts them out in the course of the case.’

Nothing could be further from the truth! As family law attorneys, we certainly empathize with the emotions that our clients are feeling, but in order to be effective advocates for them, we must remain objective in our analysis of the facts and the law. That is why doctors don’t operate on their own family members, for example. Having an emotional investment in a situation can cloud a person’s professional judgment. So if your attorney greets opposing counsel with a cheerful hello, remember it doesn’t mean they aren’t doing their job for you—but instead, that they are doing it in a professional manner.