Useful Etiquette Rules for Paralegals in Confrontational Situations

Here is some good advice that we recently gathered from a judge, who is used to confronting delicate and sometimes emotional settings in a legal and judicial context, and other experts in good manners.
Please share your experiences, views, and insights in our comments section!

—— Etiquette and Empathy ——
Most questions of etiquette can be resolved by transforming them into simple questions of empathy, without necessarily following a precise behavioral rule for a specific situation.
In any situation that demands a well-mannered response or behavior, the best way to know what to do, is first to place ourselves in the shoes of the person in front of us (the lawyer with whom we’re working on a case, the client who’s waiting for an answer, the opposing team calling us to negotiate a deal, the stranger in the elevator), and then act in a way that makes this person comfortable, as we ourselves would want to be made comfortable in those circumstances!

—— Etiquette and e-mail communications ——
  • Prevent dispute escalation. E-mail is an imperfect way to resolve differences. Unlike oral communication, e-mail provides no tone or inflection. It is really difficult to know just by reading an e-mail what the mood and intent of the writer was when he wrote that particular e-mail.
    As a result, some poorly or too quickly written e-mails can create or escalate disputes. If email communication leads to confrontation, the best thing to do is to end the back-and-forth e-mail exchange and agree to speak by telephone or better, if possible, in person.

  • Interpret generously. Just as e-mail writers must consider the tone recipients might assign to the text, so must recipients generously interpret the writer’s intent. Recipients should assume the good intentions from the writer to avoid overreacting to a text that might be brief, hostile, or unclear.

  • Never forward without permission, but always assume that recipients will forward your communications without permission. That's maybe one of the most important things to keep in mind, especially since email and ,even more dangerously, social media became ubiquitous.

—— Etiquette and Bad News ——
  • Running late?
    If despite your best efforts, you’re about to run late or, worse yet, you actually went past a deadline, the rule of etiquette in these situations is that, as soon as you perceive that a deadline won’t be met, the supervising attorney is informed immediately, in order for the supervisor to be able to manage other dependencies and to work out a new timeline.
  • Bad news
    Similarly, your rule of etiquette when you have bad news to deliver should be to do so immediately, and preferably in person. This is an instance where interruption is appropriate; moreover, it’s one in which your ability to look the assigner in the eye and lay out your case can be critical in conveying the importance of what you have to say, and in helping the assigning attorney to access both your verbal and nonverbal cues in order to integrate the news and decide how to proceed.
    At the very least, convey your conclusion by phone, if a face-to-face meeting isn’t possible for some reason. Try to stay away from voice messages when it comes to bad news, and also try to avoid e-mail, except as a last resort.

Good luck and please share your own etiquette rules with us.

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