What sort of male lawyer would call a female lawyer “honey” in court? A jerk? Sure, but lawyers sometimes behave like jerks for a reason. To demean a female lawyer, push her buttons? Most female lawyers will rip your head off if you try to play that game. There is no tactical advantage to be gained by doing so. Instead, you’re far more likely to give your adversary a reason to go to extreme lengths to destroy you and make your client’s life as miserable as humanly possible.
What sort of male lawyer could call a female lawyer “honey” in court? An incompetent loser.
Of course, there are also male lawyers who are just old school sexist, who use such demeaning language without any tactical purpose. It’s just the stupid crap that comes out of their mouths. It shouldn’t, and they should gain a sufficient level of awareness so that they stop saying stupid crap. If they’re too old, or too unaware, to grasp that such stupid crap is offensive, they need to be told.
And then there are male lawyers who are well aware of the fact that their words are offensive, serve no tactical purpose, and yet use them anyway. These are the misogynists. Yes, there are actual men who are misogynists, despite the fact that the word has been reduced to meaninglessness by its overuse. These lawyers need a hard smack, as they’re malicious in their language.
But distinguishing between these various male lawyers can be difficult, and it matters. There is a significant difference between someone who uses language to deliberately demean female lawyers and someone who uses language that intends no harm. It’s not that the words aren’t inappropriate, but that there is no malevolence behind their utterance. It takes some effort to tell one from another.
This is more effort than the word police are willing to expend.
[The National Association of Women Lawyers], which represents 5,200 women, has been backing an effort to add to the American Bar Association’s model rules of professional conduct an amendment to prohibit harassment and discrimination by lawyers in the course of practicing law. Bar associations in 23 states and the District of Columbia already have some kind of protections against harassment and discrimination by lawyers in the conduct of their profession, but the proposal would establish a standard nationwide.
The A.B.A. policy-making body is scheduled to vote on that amendment on Monday.
Is it an ethical violation to use sexist language? Should it be? The ABA has been on a social justice tear for a while, having lost interest in the relationship between lawyers and clients and having been overcome by the sound of mewling. So what is this “harassment” of which they whine?
Many female lawyers would agree. They say that even as more women graduate from law school and represent clients in courtrooms, it is not rare for them to be addressed as “honey” or “darling.” Sometimes they are subject to a grating remark, or an arm around the shoulder, they say.
These women are lawyers. Tough enough to go into the trenches and fight the government, make federal agents cry on the witness stand, get the toughest hombre to whither under their gaze. And yet, they curl up into a ball and cry in the corner because someone called them “honey”? Not the women lawyers I know. Not the women lawyers who belong in the trenches.
“An ethical rule makes us accountable,” said Drucilla S. Ramey, a former executive director of the San Francisco Bar Association. “Lawyers are officers of the court. We’re supposed to set a standard of conduct and that’s a privilege.”
Ethical rules do, indeed, make us accountable. It’s for that reason that we don’t create ethical rules that have no bearing on the practice of law rather than the generic progressive view of behavior. There is no ethical rule that says lawyers shouldn’t murder their clients, yet we shouldn’t, even if we sometimes would like to.
That this is the sort of mindless gibberish that is under discussion at all suggests that either someone like Ramey is too stupid to be a lawyer, or she thinks the rest of us are. We’re officers of the court? Great. Don’t lie to judges. What the hell does it have to do with setting a generic standard of conduct that has no specific applicability to the law?
But what about the “honey” problem? Why do women claim to need an ethical rule to deal with their hurt feelings?
Typically, women say, they ignore insults or sexist comments for fear of imperiling their careers or being labeled less than a team player.
So you want to act like girls,* but don’t want anybody to call you one? And you want the bludgeon of the disciplinary rules because it’s too hard and scary for you to smack some jerk yourself? If some old lawyer, or even judge, uses sexist language not out of malice or bad tactics, but because he’s unaware of the fact that he’s doing so, tell him.
If you find it troubling enough that it bothers you, say something.** Of course male lawyers shouldn’t call female lawyers “honey” or “darling” or “sweetie,” like diner waitresses call guys they don’t know. If it bothers you, do something about it. Tell ’em. Smack ’em. Use your mad lawyer skillz to teach them a lesson. If you can’t shut down some jerk, some misogynist, then how are you going to shut down a government agent calling your client all manner of bad things?
Male lawyers beat each other up all the time. Old lawyers beat up young lawyers all the time. Mean lawyers beat up nice lawyers all the time. And good lawyers prevail against the ones who try to beat them up. That’s what lawyers do.
So what if it makes you sad and you would much rather have someone else do the dirty work of making your world happy and wonderful? You’re a lawyer. Deal with it. Your clients think you’re competent to make their world better, but you’re too weak and scared to do it for yourself?
For crying out loud, toughen up teacup. If someone calling you “honey” is so horrible that it makes you cry, then you have no business being a lawyer. You’re not cut out for it. You’re not tough enough for it. And if you can’t muster the strength to shut down someone who says something that offends you, then you have no one to blame but yourself.
* Uh oh. Yup, I said it.
**Be aware, however, that not everybody is obsessed with being on the cutting edge of social justice language. Pick your battles.