The Value of Nice

Nice law studentsPlease welcome Jennifer Warren, attorney and Academic Achievement Coordinator at Oklahoma City University School of Law, to talk about an important topic — the value of being nice!

Law students and lawyers, in general, have a reputation for being callous, cutthroat, and competitive. Law schools, with their student rankings and mandatory grade curves, have a tendency to foster these traits. Add to that a highly competitive job market and even the most magnanimous law student may find it difficult to stay above the fray. It’s no better when the student starts practicing law, where the fight to bill hours, get clients and win cases (which often includes possibly the most frustrating litigation task of all — conferring over discovery disputes) can fuel backstabbing, passive aggressiveness, and just plain meanness.

With the new semester upon us, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the value of being nice. Now, by “being nice,” I don’t mean to suggest that you shouldn’t be driven, or focused, or passionate. I don’t mean you shouldn’t work hard, or shoot for the highest grade, or the most favorable ruling. And being nice certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t zealously advocate for your clients. Instead, what I mean is that any time you have the opportunity (or obligation) to interact with other people, you should take care to treat them with respect and kindness and maybe even a little compassion. If you aren’t sold on the value of being nice just for its own sake, consider that being nice can improve your own well-being, your career, and your community.

Be Nice to Help Yourself

Making a conscious effort to be nice to those around you can actually improve you own emotional well-being. Everyone has certain people or situations that make their blood boil but treating others with contempt or rudeness, even if the deserve it, rarely improves the situation and generally only makes you feel more upset. Practicing law is a stressful, challenging, even frustrating occupation, so learning how to reduce and manage those conditions is essential. Being nice (i.e. respectful, calm, controlled, polite) is one way to diffuse tense situations, improve your attitude, and stay in control of your own emotional well-being.

Be Nice to Help Your Career

It’s cliché to say but it’s also true: what goes around comes around, especially in the legal community. Even if you only have one brief interaction, people will remember if you treated them poorly. But if you make a conscious effort to be nice (and to produce quality work) you’ll be building a positive reputation that will follow you for years to come. In building this reputation, it’s important to remember that you need to be nice to everyone. That means being considerate and polite to support staff and other students or young lawyers, not just to professors and judges.

  • First, if you’re rude or patronizing to someone, regardless of where they fall in the hierarchy, it won’t take long for that transgression to get passed around to everyone else in the office, including the boss, the judge, or whoever makes the decisions, and that person almost certainly won’t appreciate you being inconsiderate towards their staff.
  • Second, that student you embarrassed in class or that lawyer you sent a passive aggressive letter to may very well have the upper hand in the future, whether as a hiring partner, a powerful politician, or a judge. You are likely to work with and against all the legal professionals you encounter again at some point in the future, so it pays to be kind, respectful, and to the extent possible, cooperative.
Be Nice to Help Your Profession

Legal professionals often complain about the vindictive and competitive culture that pervades the practice of law, but this atmosphere will never change unless the people within it change their attitudes. Lawyers and law students could benefit from remembering Leo Tolstoy’s observation that “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Rather than complaining about the system or belittling opposing counsel, try changing the one thing you’re really in control all: your own actions. If everyone in the legal profession were a little more respectful, cooperative, prepared, considerate — if everyone were just a little nicer — the process of studying law and practicing law might be more enjoyable for everyone.

It’s not always easy to be nice, but it’s almost always the best strategy to take. Being nice makes you feel better, makes others respect and appreciate you more, and improves the general atmosphere in the profession at large. So next time you’re going to lose your cool, take a deep breath, calm down, and remember the value of being nice.

Thanks, Jennifer!

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About Jennifer Warren

Jennifer received her B.A. in Politics cum laude from New York University and her J.D. with highest distinction from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. She has several years of experience in the areas of juvenile law and civil litigation and is the Academic Achievement Coordinator at Oklahoma City University School of Law.

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