The title of my post may surprise you. Surely, you think, there are many irrefutable rules of legal practice. In fact, though there are many rules, but all are secondary to this one, and none so irreducible as this one:
Don't act like an asshole to the law clerks, court clerks, and court reporters.
This is not only a rule of decency, but of prudence and common sense. And yet many lawyers are assholes to these people, because it is in their essential nature to be assholes, particularly to people whom they view as socially inferior or less "important" — which may well be the very pathology that led them to be lawyers in the first place. (The belief that a law clerk, or court clerk, or court reporter is unimportant is one held only by people who don't have a firm grasp of the role they play in the business of the court — and even if they were unimportant, as Dave Barry says, someone who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person.)
Usually the consequences are unpleasant, but not grave — lost filings, lack of cooperation in minor ministerial tasks, unflattering "ums" and "uhs" in a transcript. Occasionally, though, lawyers get in real trouble. Case in point: Louisiana lawyer R. Michael Moity Jr., who has been disbarred from practice before the federal courts of the Western District of Louisiana for a year because of a chain of events that began when he acted like a dick in a phone call with a federal magistrate's law clerk and culminated in him misleading the court about his disciplinary record. News flash: when a federal judge's clerk calls and says the judge wants to know why you weren't at a hearing, the proper response is not to yell at the clerk for not reminding you to come to the hearing.
Perhaps reasonable minds can differ on whether Mr. Moity ("Stop saying 'Mr. Moity'! You said my name about five times, I know my name!") should be so harshly disciplined for his lack of professional decorum. But ask yourself this, if you think he should not be interrupted in his federal practice: would you want to be represented by someone who thinks it is a good idea to blow up at a federal judge's law clerk when she calls on instructions from the judge?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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