Human nature and the value of reputation

“A good name is more desirable than great riches.” —Proverbs 22:1

“A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity.” —Baltasar Gracian

 

“Do judges play favorites with some attorneys?” A young attorney asked me this after I served as the judge at a mock trial for new lawyers. The event was designed to show new lawyers how a jury trial takes place. A full trial was held — in shortened form — including opening statements, direct and cross examinations, and closing arguments, along with jury instructions at the end.

The veteran lawyers who volunteered to conduct the trial did a great job. Each had a different style in their approach to the case. This allowed the newer lawyers to see how each person’s gifts can be used effectively. After the trial, I pointed out how lawyers with an established record of integrity can sometimes be given a bit more leeway in how they present a case. Some of the new lawyers mistook this for meaning that courts play favorites with attorneys. That is not true.

I had known some on the panel for about 30 years. A lawyer’s reputation can either serve or harm their client’s goals. Lawyers are far more effective when they are known to be professional, civil, courteous and truthful in dealings with other attorneys and the court. Building such a reputation takes time.

This is really no different than what we all understand about human nature in life. You have more trust in those who have proven themselves over time to be trustworthy. You are more careful with those you don’t know very well or who have seemed to behave in a less trustworthy manner. 

For example, if you hear that your car needs an expensive repair, your response may depend upon who gives you the news. If the mechanic has been fair and truthful in the past you’ll have more confidence in the opinion. If trust is lacking, you are more likely to want a second opinion.

Lawyers are subject to rules of professional conduct. They are to avoid, “Conduct that may be characterized as uncivil, abrasive, abusive, hostile, or obstructively impedes the fundamental goal of resolving disputes rationally, peacefully, and efficiently.”  

The vast majority of the attorneys who appear in court exhibit the highest degrees of professionalism.  

While the court system itself is an adversarial process, that description applies to the interests of the claims, not to the professional conduct of the lawyers. In behaving in a professional manner, lawyers — and judges too — help to reinforce that our system works to achieve the peaceful resolution of disputes. This respectful manner of resolving our differences makes the end result one that both the litigants and society as a whole are more willing to accept.  

Like the mechanic with a proven track record, a lawyer with an earned reputation of integrity will be more likely to be trusted and thus be more effective. Those with a negative reputation will not be as readily trusted or effective.

 

Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County. If you have a general question about the law or courts for Judge Galler, send your question to the editor of this newspaper. Learn more about Judge Galler, or listen to a podcast of his columns at www.judgegreggaller.com. 

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