Civility as a Tactical Tool in Litigation

I had the pleasure of attending an internal presentation at my firm today by two of our partners, Eugene Meehan, QC, and Scott Maidment, on the topic of “Civility as a Strategy in Litigation: Using It as a Tactical Tool.”

The topic of civility in the legal profession has in fact been raised on SLAW in the past, including a great post by Connie Crosby called Civility in the Law, a post that prompted a lot of Comments.

However, it appears that no mention has been made on SLAW of Eugene’s writing on this topic, including an earlier version of his paper “Civility as a Strategy in Litigation: Using It as a Tactical Tool” (and Eugene has promised to update his paper on his site as soon as he is able – as usual, he welcomes comments on the topic).

It is all too common to remember examples from real life (or from Hollywood) of the overly aggressive, nay uncivil, lawyer. What is nice about the points made at the talk and in the paper is that one need not be nice/civil for the sake of being nice (although that is a good thing) – instead, it is usually in your client’s interest for you to be civil and the paper discusses a number of tactical tools that can be deployed.

I also liked the point raised at the talk on the difference between being “vigorous” and being” aggressive.” You can be vigorous and civil and at the same time and effectively advance your client’s cause whereas being aggressive often involves (out-of-control) emotions that can inflame uncivil activity.

And although I was already aware of what Eugene describes as Pig Rule #1 (Never wrestle with a pig – you only get dirty; and the pig likes it), I was not familiar with Pig Rule #2: Never try to teach a pig to dance – it wastes your time; and it only annoys the pig!

Lesson: don’t rise to the level of your adversary’s incivility and don’t let incidents of incivility get under your skin.


  1. I recall a joke submitted to my class paper when I was in Grade 7: ‘love thine enemy; it will drive him nuts’. I suppose that’s a litigation strategy of sorts too.

  2. The author of the Book of Proverbs said it well:

    If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink.

    For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.

    I have always wondered if the wish to heap coals on one’s enemy’s head was a worthy motive for doing good.