Words like patience, kindness and respect are often missing in action in today’s public discourse.
But the president of the NC Bar Association is making it her mission to bring them back.
“Each of us can make the choice to display the attributes of civility,” writes Asheville attorney and NCBA president Jacqueline D. Grant in the February issue of North Carolina Lawyer magazine. “[T]here is a connection between civility, ethics, and quality of life. I firmly believe the way we treat one another is a reflection of our values.”
Grant draws inspiration from Professor P.M. Forni, co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project, who died in December. He wrote the best-seller “Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct,” which has become a canonical text for the American civility movement. His second book, “The Civility Solution: What to do When People are Rude,” offers guidance on how to respond to incivility.
Grant said Professor Forni’s message is needed now more than ever.
“From politics, to shouting matches, to opiniated social media posts, we are confronted every day with uncivil conversation,” she writes. “This is unfortunate because civil conversation is essential in a democratic society.”
Rules for Civility
Here are some of Professor Forni’s civility rules:
- Pay attention
- Acknowledge others
- Be inclusive
- Speak kindly
- Respect others’ opinions
- Respect other people’s time
- Respect other people’s space
- Apologize earnestly and thoughtfully
- Refrain from idle complaints
- Give constructive criticism
- Don’t shift responsibility and blame
And on the flip side, some attributes of incivility:
- Not paying attention
- Ignoring or being dismissive of others
- Failing to listen
- Being non-inclusive
- Being disrespectful of others’ opinions
- Acting as if your opinions are superior
- Failing to admit that you might be wrong or don’t know.
Rules of Professional Conduct: Preamble
Grant points out that the ethics rules make civility a professional responsibility:
“Although a matter is hotly contested by the parties, a lawyer should treat opposing counsel with courtesy and respect [Preamble, Section 13].” The preamble goes on to say:
- The client’s legal dispute “must never become the lawyer’s personal dispute with opposing counsel.”
- Zealous representation does not mean “resorting to unfair or offensive tactics.”
- “The legal system provides a civilized mechanism for resolving disputes, but only if the lawyers themselves behave with dignity.”
- “A lawyer’s word to another lawyer should be the lawyer’s bond.”
- “As professional colleagues, lawyers should encourage and counsel new lawyers by providing advice and mentoring; foster civility among members of the bar by acceding to reasonable requests that do not prejudice the interests of the client; and counsel and assist peers who fail to fulfill their professional duties because of substance abuse, depression, or other personal difficulties.”
President Jacqueline D. Grant
A partner at Roberts & Stevens in Asheville, Grant in 2016 received the NCBA’s Citizen Lawyer Award for providing “exemplary public service and leadership to their communities.”
She is the second African-American female and third African-American overall to serve as president of the NCBA. In 2014-15, she was the first African-American female to serve as president of the 28th Judicial District Bar.
She has also been an active member of the N.C. Association of Defense Attorneys, Defense Research Institute and the N.C. Association of Women Attorneys, in addition to service in a range of community organizations, including the YWCA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Western North Carolina and the City of Asheville Sustainable Economic Development Task Force.