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LIV President's Blog 2014

LIV President's Blog 2014

Geoff Bowyer, LIV President 2014 on the latest issues and topics. Read and comment.

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Lawyers' etiquette - twelve rules to live by

Lawyers' etiquette - twelve rules to live by

I’ve watched a number of what I considered to be basic common sense etiquette and manners be broken over the past week, which never fails to surprise me in our profession. So with the danger zone of the ‘silly season’ upon us and maybe all of us are starting to feel weary I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I think are some etiquette rules that lawyers should adhere to. I know these points are pretty basic - but how many have you broken lately?

1.  What to call the judge: This can be deceptively complex. There are rules such as don’t call a judge “judge” in public – just nod politely. However, “your honour” is correct for court, but “Judge or Justice” may be more appropriate in other professional environment. But there are many different permutations – and it’s important to know them all. Read What do I call the Judge? for details.

2.  When you’re dressing for court: Everyone should always wear a collar. It’s not the time to be ‘on-trend’ or to demonstrate your fashion chops. A $50 black suit with a collar will trump a pricey collarless Armani every time.

3.  Casual Friday: Friday casual day doesn’t mean ripped jeans, a t-shirt and thongs – you are still a business professional. And call me old fashioned but if you have a client meeting that day, there’s no such thing as casual Friday – dress appropriately.

4.  If you bump into a client in public: Be polite, perhaps even say g’day or nod discreetly, and move on unless you have a close out of work association.This can  be particularly challenging for criminal lawyers, and I know more than one lawyer who avoids taking their family to shopping centres in the local area to avoid such awkwardness (clients may not always be so apprehensive about approaching you).

5.  Email sign-offs: Don’t be over familiar in the professional environment. Emoticons have no place in work emails. “Cheers” is not an appropriate sign-off for an email to your boss. At the same time I never ever use Dear Sir/Madam - if you know them use their christian name or at the very least  ‘Dear colleague’.

6.  Social media: Don’t ‘friend’ clients or work colleagues on Facebook. This is what LinkedIn is for. You don’t want to be sharing your private life with your professional one and ethical rules abound about professional privilege traps.

7.  Turn off your mobile phone: For all meetings, court appearances, professional lunches - turn off your mobile phone. And if you’re going to leave it on silent, turn off that annoying vibrate option – it can be louder and more irritating than a ring tone. 

8.  Forwarding email history: Have you ever forwarded on an email with the full email history attached? Not only can this lead to awkwardness for all participants involved, it’s just bad manners. You are effectively sending someone else’s correspondence on to someone they never intended to see it. Delete the history or at least check with those in the history if you do want to share their email, particularly if it’s a sensitive topic.

9.  Personal relationships with clients: A case may be an incredibly intimate and intense experience for you and your client – but you must always maintain a professional distance to be able to conduct your job effectively. You know what I’m getting at.

10. Maintain your decorum at office parties: I’m constantly amazed at the experienced professionals who undergo undesirable personality changes through excessive alcohol consumption and behave badly at office parties. Remember – everyone loves to gossip, and you don’t want to be the fodder for the next 12 months. So don’t drink too much and don’t make this the time to confide in your boss. Just relax and enjoy connecting with your work colleagues in a relaxed atmosphere.

11. Kris Kringle gifts: I have seen (and yes given a few in earlier days) some truly appalling Kris Kringle gifts, and just because this is often anonymous, it doesn’t mean it’s okay to give someone something inappropriate for the office environment (not the time for sexual innuendo and gags). Think classy – knowing it will be appreciated.

12. Respect everyone and remember your manners: Everyone in your professional life deserves your respect – your boss, your peers, and your administrative support. Your good treatment of everyone equally makes you an excellent representation of the profession.

What have I forgotten? I’d love to hear from you. What do you think are particularly important points of etiquette to remember at this time of year?

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Geoff Bowyer
Thanks for your comment Michael - wise words indeed!
19/11/2014 2:09:03 PM

Geoff Bowyer
Thanks Deb pitfalls abound in public & private life which can often be addressed by a moment's thought before one talks but it can take a moment or a lifetime to learn this lesson.
17/11/2014 3:59:56 PM

Deborah Curtis
Overstepping boundaries can be a symptom of being overwhelmed by pressure and other problems such as alcohol or other self-medication abuse.
Inappropriate confiding and gossiping is also a huge no-no but it often happens when people are seeking pressure release and reward and their inhibitions are loosened by alcohol.
Respect can be lost very easily so it's best to find a trusted confidante/mentor/counsellor to unload with on a regular basis if the pressure is getting to you.
But some people just have an overconfident demeanour which expects the world to adjust to them. (It won't.)
Often they are simply masking insecurity and this needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.
17/11/2014 1:51:31 PM

Sam Abrahams
With regard to point 5, in the last census, barely 50% of the population gave their religion as Christians.

All of the others don't have Christian names.
14/11/2014 5:09:44 PM

Geoff Bowyer
Very true I confess Deb - unless you buy recycled clothes?!
14/11/2014 3:05:06 PM

Geoff Bowyer
Thanks Alexandra sometimes the most obvious things like courtesy are not so obvious to many others.
14/11/2014 3:04:07 PM

Geoff Bowyer
Thanks for your comment Sarah. I think the key to dressing for court is to look conservative and tidy. If the long sleeve blouse or dress is worn with a suit jacket then it is certainly appropriate in my opinion- though I am no expert on women’s fashion! The LIV Young Lawyer’s Section did a great blog last year on dressing for court and the office that you may like to read-
14/11/2014 2:43:16 PM

Sarah Jane Hope
Geoff, thank you for your interesting post. In relation to your opinion in (2) 'when you're dressing for court', could you please clarify whether you mean to say that female lawyers should wear a collared shirt under a suit when attending court? It would follow that wearing a dress under a suit, for example, is inappropriate. It would also follow that a collarless long-sleeved blouse should not be worn. Is this your intention?
14/11/2014 12:14:36 PM

Julie Mouy
Centers is spelt centres unless you are American!
13/11/2014 7:12:04 PM

Michael McGarvie
Dear President, may I endorse your timely reminder about decorum and common courtesies. It also makes great sense tying this in with the ethical rules of behaviour and professional interaction. I also refer to my RPA Alert from November last year - "Play the Ball and not your opponent."
Sincerely, Michael McGarvie, Legal Services Commissioner.
13/11/2014 6:22:48 PM

Alejandra Gil
Manners and common courtesy are not that common these days. Always be polite, give respect and earn respect, be professional and never late. Never slap a clients hand like a naughty school boy. I have witnessed this first hand and the client was far from impressed.
13/11/2014 4:44:39 PM

Geoff Bowyer
Thanks Christine, I appreciate your response.
13/11/2014 4:19:09 PM

Geoff Bowyer
More useful tips, thanks David!
13/11/2014 4:18:26 PM

Geoff Bowyer
Thanks Deborah, terrific input much appreciated. All corrected now!
13/11/2014 4:17:01 PM

Deborah Staines
Lots of good basics to be reminded of here. The only thing that seemed a bit out of touch was the description of a $50 suit. Who sells women's suits at that price? I want their address!
13/11/2014 4:02:36 PM

David Misso
Dealing with government departments, council staff, court officials: always be polite and friendly (in a professional manner) when dealing with any of these officials. Apart from them appreciating your manners, they will reciprocate and may even go out of their way to assist you.
13/11/2014 11:27:26 AM

Deborah Polites
Well said - good old fashioned manners will go a long way. However, I think you meant that we should nod "discreetly" (subtly) not discretely (separately). Also, the apostrophe in the heading should be after the "s" as the rules are for lawyers (plural). On the substantive side, I would like to ask that, at meetings, senior lawyers resist the temptation not to shake hands with more junior lawyers. It seems to happen particularly when they are female. Please greet eveyone present with a handshake. Also, all email correspondence with a Court, mediator or arbitrator, even about the most mundane matter (a typo in engrossed orders, for example) should be copied to all other parties - this is a professional obligation but it's also common courtesy. We've been surprised lately to see this failing to happen.
13/11/2014 10:42:59 AM

Christine Carder Rice
I disagree with number 5 - i really don't see why there is a problem using "cheers" as an email sign off. I think its a really nice way of signing off an email - it is friendly without being too personal and it is certainly a lot more genuine than "with my sincerest regards"
13/11/2014 10:41:48 AM

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