WSBA challenges me to be civil - but can It be? part 1

Sent: Thursday, February 10, 2011 11:39 AM
Subject: WSBA Professionalism Article

Hi Karen,

It was great to speak with you today about this article.  I love your idea of exchanging emails to establish the body of the piece.  As we discussed, you will take the first shot and we can parry and thrust from there.


Sims Weymuller

From: Karen Koehler February 10, 2011 12:00 PM

Dear Sims:

What right does the WSBA have to tell us we need to smile when dealing with opponents.    If we aren’t violating the rules for professional conduct by doing something dastardly – like lying – why can’t we be stern.  Or down right grumpy.  Since when has society wanted attorneys to be nice and friendly  as we go off to fight for our clients’ rights.    As you can tell, I don’t think much of the WSBA’s new “civility” initiative.    I’m a trial attorney.  That means I’m a warrior.  As long as I behave professionally, it shouldn’t matter if I’m being sweet or not.

From: Sims Weymuller February 10, 2011 3:24 PM

Dear Karen,

Thanks for the email.  For starters, the WSBA is not telling you to do anything, at least not in the sense that the RPCs require you to do things.  The RPCs are the floor, we are talking about the ceiling or, better yet, the sky.  We are asking: to what do we aspire as professionals?  With regard to civility, our goal is to encourage the members of our profession to conduct themselves in a fashion appropriate for an officer of the court.   Nobody said anything about smiling and being sweet; that’s a straw-man argument.  You can and should fight for your client, just do it with some measure of decorum.  As members of the Bar, we are the keepers of an entire branch of government.  We must treat the system, and each other, with respect.

Now, you say that “[a]s long as I behave professionally, it shouldn’t matter if I’m being sweet or not.”  Agreed, but what in your view is professional behavior?



From: Karen Koehler  February 10, 2011 7:20 PM

My dearest Sims:

Thank you for your exceedingly thoughtful email.  I appreciate the time you devoted to crafting such a remarkable reply.    Truly the poeticism employed – the floor, the ceiling, the sky – absolutely divine.

I beg your permission to voice … hmmm,  how can I delicately put this…  my feelings.  Frankly… well I guess I shouldn’t be too frank... wouldn’t want to offend anyone...  Let me put it this way.  I wish WSBA was spending more energy on the critical funding failures that may result in the collapse of our courts.  Instead of trying to become Miss Manners.  I hope you understand that I say this with all due respect.

Be that as it may.  Because WSBA has made civility a priority initiative, I suppose I am willing to be drawn into a polite fencing match with you over the joys and benefits of being an absolute darling during the litigation process.    Let me answer your question about defining “what is professional behavior”, by asking a question (thank you in advance for indulging me in this regard):

Is it better to: 1)  act professionally and be truly uncivil; or 2)  be professional and act uncivilly.

I look forward to what will surely be an intriguing response.  Thank you for your kind courtesies in engaging in this dialogue with me.


(to be continued...civilly or not is the question)