Robert G. Methvin, Jr.
Professionalism: Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable
As you all know by now, one of my main goals as your president is to seek to improve the public image of lawyers by highlighting our hard work as well as our significant contributions to our local communities. Lawyers have been given the sacred title of "professional," which carries with it a host of responsibilities and expectations. Sometimes it may feel, too, that no matter how much we give back, we do not always receive the credit that our profession deserves. Yet, in these unprecedented times, we have an opportunity as leaders to rise above the tension that has developed in our country as a result of public stressors, such as the pandemic, civil unrest, and the recent election, to seek to heal our communities and lead by example.
My work as a litigator requires me to interact with attorneys all across the nation. While most are professional in their actions, few have the strong collegian support that Alabama State Bar members share. Maybe it's our Southern hospitality, but I genuinely believe that Alabama lawyers care about each other in a way that transcends a handshake or greeting for the sake of appearing professional. Unlike larger states, we are a small enough group that word can certainly get around fast if a certain attorney is very difficult to deal with. As Alabama lawyers have said for years, it is simply not worth burning a bridge with a fellow lawyer because we are more than likely going to see that lawyer again in our career.
I like to say that "we can disagree without being disagreeable. "Our jobs naturally put us in the awkward position of requiring us to disagree as adversaries, but that should never mean that we disagree in a way that embarrasses or demeans the other side. There is nothing to gain by being the lawyer who is rude, "who is always right, "or who seems to receive too much enjoyment from arguing for the sake of it. We are all passionate about our cases, but we often need to remind ourselves to keep our behavior in check when we are expressing that passion before a client, judge, jury, or opposing counsel.
More often, it is not just lawyers in the room observing our behavior. Clients may be in the room, and while they all have different expectations for their lawyer's behavior, you can rarely go wrong with decorum. The most concerning is when we act out of character in front of law clerks, young lawyers, or...