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A Better Partnership
May 14, 2009

Chief Justice Kelly's comments on civility

When asked about what had changed the most in her 12 years on the Michigan Supreme Court, Chief Justice Kelly identified the decline in civility among attorneys.' She recommended to young attorneys that they identify role models' in the practice' who are respected by friend and foe alike.'

OCJ Blog:' In the more than 12 years that you've now been a justice to the Michigan Supreme Court and now, obviously, the chief justice, how has appellate practice changed'

CJ Kelly:' Well, I'm not certain -- it seems to me that I sense' more -- less civility among lawyers today or more -- let me put it this way, more instances of incivility than I was conscious of before.' I'm aware that there's tremendous competition today that has to account for' some of that and that the times have changed such that I think generally people in our society have grown less' civil with one another, which flows over, not' surprisingly, into the legal profession.' That's one of the things I'm most aware of.

OCJ Blog:' If I can step off the answer of the last question, how' have you seen that incivility appear in practice before the Michigan Supreme Court'

CJ Kelly:' Generally in our court, as in the Court of Appeals,' lawyers treat one another quite well, and that's always' appreciated by judges, by the way.' But I do see' examples where lawyers clearly are not showing deference to one another and tend to some ad hominem attacks that are inappropriate.' And then I hear, you know, in just moving around the state and intermingling with lawyers a lot of complaints about -- especially from friends who' have been in the practice a long time about what they view as the deteriorating condition in the practice with respect to civility.

OCJ Blog:' Do you have any recommendations for new appellate' lawyers in terms' of how they can model their practice in a way to ensure that they maintain civility even with incivil' opposing counsel'

CJ Kelly:' It's a good question, and I think I've always felt that' new lawyers should try to find a good role model to' emulate or several role models to emulate, because we' certainly do have in the practice many lawyers who' behave very appropriately and even in situations where' they're faced with incivility by others.' But I' recommend modeling oneself after a lawyer who has a' reputation of being civil, who is respected by other members of the Bar, particularly members who practice on the other side, so to speak.

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