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Do nice people finish last?

A few years ago, I was a young, new lawyer sitting in a district court courtroom with my client for a hearing. When the judge took the bench, she instructed all attorneys who intended to have trials or hearings that day to exchange exhibits prior to coming up. As instructed, I stood up and signaled to opposing counsel to step outside of the courtroom.

When we were outside, I was eager and ready to exchange exhibits when opposing counsel announced that he did not intend to provide me with copies of his exhibits, even after I gave him mine. Innocently, I asked him “Do you not have an extra copy for me? Did you not hear the judge?”

“No,” he said. ” I won’t exchange my exhibits with you.”

As I realized what was happening, I decided this was not a fight worth having and returned to my seat in the courtroom.

When our case was called, the judge asked whether counsel and I had exchanged exhibits and were ready to try the case. I quickly recounted to the judge what happened outside of the courtroom. With a puzzled look, the judge asked counsel if there was a reason he did not provide me copies.

“With all respect, your honor, I do not have to,” the lawyer said.

Needless to say, opposing counsel put a bitter taste in the judge’s mouth and accomplished nothing. In fact, I think the lawyer may have hurt his client that day, embarrassed himself and perhaps his reputation.

Opposing counsel was uncivil for the sake of being uncivil. His ill-intentioned behavior did not advance his client’s position or the perception of our profession. Sure enough, he lost the case. His uncivil behavior towards me – and more importantly – toward the court, hurt him and his client.

While it is important to be a zealous advocate for your client, it does no good to you, to your colleagues, to the reputation of our profession, and more importantly, to your client to be uncivil.

So, do nice guys and gals finish last? I don’t think so, at least not when the ideals and rules of our profession require that we are civil and professional. Civility always wins the race.