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How (Not) to Make Your Professional Mark

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 14, 2019

Melissa Dewey Brumback, Ragsdale Liggett PLLC

Professionalism comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, the very same interaction with a professional colleague or opposing counsel can teach you both how to act, as well as how not to act. This is one such story. [Cue “dum-dum” music from Law & Order].

A few years back, I had a case with opposing counsel that I had never worked with before. Let’s call him “Mr. X.” Mr. X and I got along fairly well, and the case was moving along towards trial. And then the fateful day occurred. The Court Clerk emailed about a hearing date for some pending motions. No big deal, right? I responded to the Court Clerk about the matter, while also cc’ing Mr. X. 

During a break in a deposition later that day, I checked my emails. What did I find? Not one, but two very different missives from Mr. X. 

The first email from Mr. X was extremely nasty. He accused me of improper ex parte contact with the Court and stated that my behavior was reprehensible and sanctionable. I was shocked that Mr. X had made such an unfounded accusation.

Then I kept reading. I found Mr. X’s second email, time-stamped about 20 minutes later, which was very conciliatory.  Mr. X had realized that I was only responding to the Clerk, and that I had cc’d him in my communications. He apologized profusely for his initial outburst and the misunderstanding.

This incident has stayed with me over the past few years. Number one, it reminded me to never respond in the heat of the moment and, in any event, never until you’ve read all of your emails!

Number two, however, it made me appreciate Mr. X’s professionalism. Did he make a mistake in the first email? Yes, very much so. However, he owned up to his mistake, in writing, and offered a sincere apology. I’ve seen many folks try to “explain away” their mistakes. Mr. X did not do so. He simply and clearly apologized for going off on me without checking all the facts first. His honest and sincere apology made me respect him a lot more than any sorry excuse he could have come up with.

We managed to later resolve the case, and I had a great working relationship with Mr. X the rest of the case. I know that Mr. X was embarrassed by his initial outburst, but we both had a powerful reminder of the benefits of professionalism. Mr. X, thank you for your willingness to own up to your mistake!

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