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Balancing Zealous Advocacy With Civility

All lawyers know they owe a duty of zealous advocacy to their clients. But how far does one push that principle? For lawyers engrossed in the often fast-paced, high-pressure world of law practice, it's easy to forget such questions.  The focus is on billing hours and satisfying clients.

Like many lawyers, Brian Annino had plenty on his plate working at a mid-sized firm in Atlanta.  One of Annino's primary clients was a large mortgage bank, and thus he was handling a large number of fairly routine foreclosure actions.

However, Annino's perspective of his role as an advocate changed radically one day in an Atlanta courthouse when he met privately with the pro se defendant in one of his client's foreclosure actions - an elderly woman whose husband had recently passed away. In an inspiring essay in the latest issue of the ABA Journal, Annino shares how he tempered his zealous advocacy of the bank's interests with sensitivity for the widow's plight resulting in a resolution that saved the woman's house from foreclosure while protecting the bank's rights.

Those who read Annino's story may conclude, "well, no one would want to hurt a widow." However, that narrow interpretation misses the broader message of the story. Instead, we hope lawyers reading Annino's essay will consider whether stress levels wouldn't drop and more amicable resolutions couldn't be reached were they prepared -- even in the tougher litigations involving corporate parties -- to take a step back and temper zealous advocacy with civility and decency towards their adversaries.

As Annino concludes his story, "we owe an important duty to our clients to zealously advocate their interests and should never abandon that principle. Rather, we should use it as a compass when compromise is mutually beneficial to all parties."

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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