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Rude? Who? New York lawyers? What’s it to you? You talking to me? To three young litigators — Patrick W. Brophy, Toby M.J. Butterfield and S. Preston Ricardo — the answer to questions about professional rudeness was to organize a lively seminar on the topic of politeness. Accordingly, as a take-off point to a panel discussion on Jan. 16 in the jury assembly room of 60 Centre St. in Manhattan, Brophy, Butterfield and Ricardo introduced a few hundred of their colleagues to an obscure canon: the ” Standards of Civility,” officially known as Appendix A to 22 N.Y.C.R.R. Part 1200 of the Disciplinary Rules of the New York State Unified Court System. This non-enforceable appendage constitutes, by self-definition, “principles of behavior to which the bar, the bench and court employees should aspire.” Speakers at the seminar, arranged through the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, were three state supreme court administrative judges — Gerald V. Esposito of the Bronx, Ann T. Pfau of Brooklyn and Jacqueline W. Silbermann of Manhattan — and veteran litigation attorney Mark Zauderer. The panel moderator, Professor Stephen Gillers of New York University School of Law, opened the evening’s proceedings with a confession. “I’m among the majority of New Yorkers who did not know about the ‘Standards of Civility,’” he said. He added, with a laugh, “And I think a number of lawyers are proud of the fact that the rough-and-tumble way the law is practiced here necessitated standards of civility.” Ricardo, 30, an associate at Golenbock, Eiseman, Assor, Bell & Peskoe, is not among the proud. Leaving out specifics, he explained: “I had a bad experience previously. I wasn’t happy with it. I wasn’t proud of it.” The weekend following, said Ricardo, a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, “My wife and I went away to Maine. My wife’s a psychologist. We talked about it — a lot. I came back more relaxed. I decided I didn’t need this anger, this aggression.” Neither does Brophy, who tells as much to clients who request misbehavior. “From time to time, I’ve had clients tell me I’m to show no courtesy to the loathsome opponent. The client may want that, but what happens [in court] is that a judge sizes you up on your personal qualities, and so does your adversary,” said Brophy, 37, an associate at McMahon, Martine & Gallagher and graduate of Columbia Law School. “Behaving like a pit bull doesn’t necessarily raise your standing.” Butterfield, 37, a partner at Kay & Boose, said he believes that civility — at least in the courts — is on the increase, as the result of the individual assignment system and the creation of more and more specialized courts. With lawyers and judges becoming increasingly familiar with one another’s names and faces, he said, “Practitioners are realizing that unpleasant behavior will come back and hurt them in the long run.” Besides, said Butterfield, a graduate of the Oxford University Faculty of Law in England who earned an LL.M. at NYU Law, “As you get more experience, little things rattle you less.” To insure etiquette, Justice Esposito actually hands out copies of the six-page “Standards of Civility” to lawyers making first appearances in his courtroom. “I have never sanctioned an attorney,” he said. “Maybe that’s good fortune, but maybe it’s because I set the tone — and expect all lawyers to behave exactly that way.” “What will change conduct is judges talking to one another,” said Justice Silbermann, who acknowledged that she, too, had only recently learned of the civility standards. She commended Esposito for distributing the published text — a practice that all panelists agreed was probably the only good way to inform lawyers that standards, aspirational as they may be, do exist. Zauderer, for instance, a partner at Solomon, Zauderer, Ellenhorn, Frischer & Sharp, said he would no sooner post civility standards in the waiting room of his firm’s offices than he would the so-called client’s bill of rights. Nor would Justice Pfau suggest that civility standards be affixed to courthouse pillars or bulletin boards or other such public areas. “Not only would that be confusing,” she said, “it’s just going to look messy and terrible.” Panelists agreed as well with a dictum offered up by Zauderer — “Slay your adversary’s case, don’t slay your adversary” — and the importance of countering public notions that give rise to rude jokes, such as: First lawyer: “Unmitigated liar!” Second lawyer: “Lowdown cheat!” Judge: “Now that the lawyers have identified themselves, let us proceed.”

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