This subject was the topic of an engaging discussion at a WSBA Professionalism Committee meeting. Everyone had something to say. It will probably come as no surprise to the audience of this newsletter that women are occasionally still treated poorly because the actor believes the female sex does not deserve better treatment. But are there occasions when women may be treated differently, not poorly - just differently, than men, and the motivating factor is not a belief that the female sex deserves poor treatment?

As we discussed the issue, the men acknowledged some concern and hesitation over some of their actions. Was opening the door for a woman as you walk into the courtroom okay? Is chivalry in general okay? As our conversation wound through the issues, we came to the conclusion that the heart of professionalism is respect. Respect for the opposing lawyer, for the opposing party, for the judge and for all other personnel involved in our legal system, such as receptionists and secretaries. 

Respect can be shown in different ways by different people. Returning to the issue of chivalry, if the chivalrous act is grounded in courtesy, then it is professional. If the act is grounded in superiority, then it is not professional. If we are on the receiving end of behavior that we ourselves would not do, we may still need to ask ourselves what the motivation of the actor was. Was it an effort at being courteous? Or was it motivated by something more sinister?

There is that old saying that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." But respect and professionalism may exist beyond just the narrow realm of how the receiver perceives the act. We may need to look at how the actor perceives it as well. Doing so will require us to suspend our judgment, which often comes with lightening speed, for just a few moments. Doing so may require us to engage in a conversation with the actor. Or a conversation with someone who could help dissect the situation.

This is not earthshaking new thinking on this subject - this has all been written about in many many arenas. But given the varied practice areas, locales, ages, ethnicities and sexes on the committee, and given that we were still discussing these issues, suggests that we need to be reminded of this periodically. In the end, we all agreed that the heart of professionalism is respect. And if we all act out of that motivation, we will do much to forward the growth of our professionalism and to enhance its esteem.

Written by Molly B. Kenny.

Molly B. Kenny
Connect with me
Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington