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Embracing civility in legal practice: Insights from Jeffrey H. Zaiger

Zaiger believes that lawyers who prioritize their clients’ best interests above personal ego or adversarial posturing ultimately provide more effective and efficient legal representation

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey H. Zaiger
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey H. Zaiger

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

In the competitive world of business litigation, civility too often falls by the wayside. Jeffrey H. Zaiger, the esteemed founding partner of Zaiger LLC, brings a refreshing perspective to this issue. Drawing parallels between sportsmanship in athletics and ethical conduct in legal practice, Zaiger emphasizes the necessity of maintaining professionalism, despite the adversarial nature of legal proceedings.

Upholding good sportsmanship in legal practice

“As a big sports fan, I’ve always appreciated good sportsmanship,” remarks Jeffrey Zaiger. He firmly believes that good sportsmanship should be even more prevalent in the practice of law, given that lawyers are bound by ethical codes. According to Zaiger, the legal profession benefits when lawyers zealously advocate on behalf of their clients, engage in rigorous debate in the courtroom, but then appreciate that the other side, much like a sports opponent, is simply doing their job.

However, there has been a concerning shift in recent times, where more and more lawyers are making personal attacks and engaging in immature and unprofessional approaches. This departure from professionalism not only tarnishes the image of the legal profession but also undermines its fundamental commitment to ethical conduct. Zaiger also believes it affects lawyers’ overall well being.

The impact of civility on legal outcomes

Throughout history, the legal profession has held itself to exacting ethical standards, placing a premium on professionalism and courtesy. Research has consistently demonstrated that civility plays an integral role in the outcomes of legal cases. When lawyers indulge in unprofessional conduct, it can detract from the merits of the case itself, rendering decisions more susceptible to personal conflicts rather than sound legal arguments.

Ethical standards and educational initiatives

In most legal jurisdictions, established ethical and professional conduct codes serve as guiding principles for lawyers. These standards invariably include provisions pertaining to civility and professional courtesy, underscoring their fundamental significance.

Furthermore, law schools and ongoing legal education programs present a prime opportunity to instill the importance of civility early in a legal practitioner’s career. By incorporating discussions on ethics and civility into their curricula, these institutions can profoundly shape the behavior of future legal professionals.

A client-centric approach to legal practice

Zaiger’s emphasis on civility aligns with a client-centric approach to legal practice. Zaiger believes that lawyers who prioritize their clients’ best interests above personal ego or adversarial posturing ultimately provide more effective and efficient legal representation.

Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that the high-stress environment inherent in legal practice can contribute to incivility. Addressing the mental health and well-being of legal professionals is a crucial step in mitigating stress-induced unprofessional behavior.

Legal associations and public perception

Legal associations and bar councils assume a pivotal role in promoting civility within the legal community. They have the capacity to organize workshops, seminars, and discussions on this critical topic, creating a platform for awareness and transformation.

Moreover, the public’s perception of the legal profession is profoundly influenced by the conduct of its practitioners. Civility and professionalism serve to enhance the public’s trust and confidence in the legal system, making it imperative for maintaining the profession’s integrity.

Towards a more civil and professional legal practice

Jeff Zaiger’s call for increased civility within legal practice serves as a timely reminder of the enduring importance of professionalism, ethics, and courtesy within the legal community. By reflecting on history and the aspects that impact legal outcomes, the legal profession can take meaningful strides towards a more civil, professional, and effective practice that both upholds its dignity and faithfully serves the best interests of clients.

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Written By

Jon Stojan is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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