Be a kind lawyer
My grandmother used to say: “Kill ‘em with Kindness, Jimmy!” As a child, my grandmother’s wise advice often went in one ear and out the other, but this stuck with me. Being kind is also the best advice for lawyers. Kindness extended by a lawyer is often a surprise to a non-lawyer. They often think of us as professional killjoys. As a veteran lawyer, seeing lawyers exchange even the smallest of kind acts greatly encourages me. The kindness I most appreciate is the kindness shown that will not necessarily gain the giver anything.
In recent years, I had the great honor to be admitted into the Bar of the United States Supreme Court. One of the perks of being a new member is getting a front row seat to that day’s oral arguments. The case being argued that day had to do with whether the Veterans Administration had given due process to a particular veteran. I was seated immediately behind the young lawyer representing the veteran. As we waited for the Supreme Court justices to come in, I watched the wide-eyed lawyer reading through his materials. Hidden just below the counsel table was his trembling hand. He had a terrified look on his face. Perhaps I would be trembling too if I was about to argue before the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court and your opposing party is the United States of America.
A moment later, the United States Solicitor General and his team of lawyers walked into the courtroom. The Solicitor General looked the picture of confidence. He was trim, smiling, and wearing a morning coat, the traditional uniform of the Solicitor General. Many people were shaking his hand as he walked into the courtroom. He came across as a rockstar in the legal world. After arranging his briefing notes at his counsel table, the Solicitor General walked the five steps past the podium and greeted the nervous young lawyer. The Solicitor General shook his hand, welcomed him to the court, and wished him well. The Solicitor General showed kindness and respect to the young lawyer in a manner that made him feel welcome. The young lawyer sat down again to wait for the moment that the Supreme Court would be called into session, and he would be invited to begin arguing for his client. I looked at his hand as the justices filed in. It had stopped shaking. He looked confident. He did a great job advocating for his client. Based upon the commentary in the courtroom after the arguments had finished, he had clearly won over the audience and, perhaps, maybe even five justices to his client’s prayer. The Solicitor General’s small act of kindness calmed his opposing counsel in his moment of anxiety.
After arguments were over the court went into recess. Since I was in the front row, I stayed for a few moments to take in the atmosphere of the courtroom. I looked up and watched Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg slowly moving out of her chair and taking her first step down the staircase. She started to fall. A robed arm reached up gracefully to steady her. The robed arm quickly and gentlemanly helped her down the steps. I looked over and saw that the kind robed arm belonged to Justice Clarence Thomas.
You don’t have to go to the United States Supreme Court to see everyday acts of lawyers being kind. I’ve observed it taking place often among lawyers across Florida. There’s a big upside to being kind. The mantra of “Kill ’em with Kindness” helps greatly when you have the urge to tell someone what you really think in a moment of irritation. Being kind is fundamental to civility. In fact, the Oath of Admission for The Florida Bar makes it a requirement of every lawyer: “To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.” Be purposeful in representing your clients, but always be a kind lawyer.
Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors.