Civil Action

Massachusetts lawyers have been warned to be polite. Lawyer joke? Nope. The Boston Bar Association is cracking down on the rudest of the rude.

“Rambo, take-no-prisoners tactics are inimical to clients' interests,” notes bar association president Michael Keating, who says hostility wastes time, disrupts attorney relations, and draws focus from the legal issues.

A bar association task force on incivility found that bad behavior permeates the legal profession. Yet the state Office of the Bar Counsel acts on only 3 to 5 of the 200 annual misconduct complaints it receives.

Some of the cases the office has investigated are posted on its Web site. One, for example, recounts a Superior Court hearing at which a lawyer approached the opposing counsel after the proceeding and told him: “If you want discovery, you're going to get discovery up the ass.”

Robert Muldoon Jr., who cochaired the task force on incivility, says he's seen lawyers delay depositions by “erupting in real or simulated rage” on behalf of their clients, and even witnessed a fed-up judge hurl a file during a trial. “Young lawyers will defer to old pros who tell them they've been around for 30 years,” says Boston lawyer Lynne Riley, another member of the task force.

Keating says he also wants judges to start cracking down on the rudest of the state's rude attorneys. “Hopefully, judges will begin to write memoranda on uncivil behavior and even use more strict disciplinary measures,” he says.