Any lawyer will tell you that the practice of law differs greatly between States. Every State has a different legal culture and, in larger States, the culture can vary even more by judicial district. Florida is a great example of this–the way cases are litigated in Miami is tremendously different from the way they’re handled in Naples.
In Delaware, we have one standard. It makes no difference in which of the three counties you practice, all Delaware lawyers are expected to abide by a certain standard of professional conduct. In a single word, the Delaware standard could be described as “civility,” according to our Principles of Professionalism for Delaware Lawyers (PDF). See also Delaware Superior Court’s Expectations for Professionalism and Civility in a Courtroom Setting (PDF).
Although civility is an excellent principle and serves as a fundamental basis for the way we practice law, it is more of a starting point. Delaware lawyers are expected to (and do) comply with an even higher standard. There may not be a specific rule that says as much but I think most of my fellow Delaware attorneys would agree that we are expected to conduct ourselves with kindness. Courtesies are exchanged without hesitation regularly.
A few examples from my own practice come to mind. One afternoon about a week or so ago, I got a call from a Delaware lawyer who regularly represents employees and, as a result, is a frequent adversary. The lawyer works in a different County and is not often in Wilmington. He said that he had just finished a mediation at the federal courthouse down the street from my firm’s new offices and wondered if he could stop by for a quick tour. I’d offered a tour when I saw him at a State Bar event a few weeks earlier.
In the middle of a busy afternoon, I was thrilled that he took me up on my offer and told him to come by before heading out of town. He arrived about 30 minutes later and I gave him the full tour–historic background, architectural design, and all. I was genuinely honored that he took me at my word and that I’d had the opportunity to show off our beautiful new space. And he was genuinely excited to get the chance to see our offices, which are housed in a renovated courthouse, originally built in 1916.
The other example of why I love practicing law in Delaware is a week-long event sponsored by the Litigation Section of the Delaware Bar Association, called “Take Your Adversary To Lunch Week.” Normally, when I tell lawyers from other States about this event, they either laugh out loud or stare at me in silence, mouth half open, in sheer disbelief. But don’t be skeptical, it’s true. This entire week, Delaware lawyers are encouraged to invite a former or current adversary out to lunch.
Litigation can be difficult and stressful, even for lawyers. And, for a variety of reasons, we sometimes let the aggravation of litigation cloud our judgment, causing us to fail in our duty to conduct ourselves with the standards expected of the members of the Delaware Bar. On the rare occasion that this does happen, it is our responsibility to repair any damage before moving on. This event gives us the opportunity to mend fences that should have been previously repaired and to celebrate fences that need no mending!
Each December, I inevitably receive a pile of holiday cards. Some are from clients, some from vendors, and many, many more are from my current and former opposing counsel. That is something that I am so very proud of and consider one of my defining achievements. And it’s exactly why I love being a Delaware lawyer.