I was sitting in court yesterday waiting for an adversary when something extraordinary happened. In fact, in 25+ years practicing law, it may have been a first.
I arrived at 9:30 sharp for a simple preliminary conference on a medical malpractice case — the initial conference in our part of the world where a discovery schedule is established. As is the practice, I proceeded to holler out the name of the case and the firm, hoping to find my adversary and start working on the forms, figuring out what we would could agree on and what might need judicial intervention.
Forty minutes go by and I am approached by a lawyer from the firm on the other side, Aaronson Rappaport, Feinstein & Deutsch. This is one of the small handful of top tier med mal defense firms in the city. If you were a doctor that had been sued, you’d want them as your counsel.
And this lawyer that I had never met proceeds to tell me that no, he is not here on my case. But he heard me call out both the firm name and the case name, knew something was amiss, and called his office. They had the matter on for 10:30 he told me, and the lawyer handling this one would be here shortly.
Let me repeat. It wasn’t his case. But on his own initiative, he made the call anyway. Most lawyers, even if they were from the same firm and happened to be in the same room, wouldn’t bother unless the case was theirs, though it costs them nothing but a moment’s time to do this.
But Sam did. He went the extra yard.
I use this space often enough to rail about the unprofessional and ethical problems of other lawyers. Newspapers do the same, because it is outlier stories that are most interesting to the public.
But that also might leave the impression among the lay public that most lawyers/cases in the courthouse are like that. They aren’t. Matters of professional courtesy aren’t considered newsworthy.
It also happens to be good lawyering, for anyone that has stood in the well of the courtroom knows that what goes around, comes around. If you don’t extend the extra day here or there because the other lawyer wants to see his daughter in her first grade play, for example, don’t expect a return favor.
One of my favorite lessons from being trained was watching my Dad try a case. He and the other lawyer would smash heads in the courtroom. Then go out for coffee afterwards.
This also happens to be good for your client. Because if/when the time comes to talk about a settlement, it is far better for the clients on both sides if the lawyers are on good personal terms so that they can have a candid discussion.
Courtesy matters. On multiple levels.