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A Lesson of Zealous Advocacy: Kindness Goes A Long Way

Updated: Sep 8

Conflict in lawsuits is completely avoidable when lawyers practice with courtesy.

Bob Grimes accepts the Daniel T. Broderick Award at the at the 2018 Red Boudreau Trial Lawyers' Dinner. The lifetime award is presented to an attorney who exemplifies civility, integrity and professionalism.


By Ben Coughlan

As attorneys, we are all considered “officers of the court.” This designation comes with obligations to which we all commit. So much so, that as attorneys in California we are required to take the following oath:

“As an officer of the court, I will strive to conduct myself at all time with dignity, courtesy and integrity.” - California Rules of Court, Rule 9.4 – Revised Attorney Oath

Yet, for most of us who practice, we spend a lot of time complaining about other attorneys who do not hold themselves to those standards. Whom we claim lie, cheat and steal in order to win. I believe that those attorneys we complain about struggle with another rule that applies to lawyers:

“A lawyer must also act with commitment and dedication to the interests of the client and with zeal in advocacy upon the client's behalf.” - Model Rule 1.3, cmt. 1

In other words, it is my belief that some attorneys feel that in order to “zealously represent” their clients, they must practice with trickery, rudeness and arrogance because they feel that will get the best results for their clients. Unfortunately, it is understandable how some might feel these two rules conflict. I think this comes from how an attorney is trained, and how she or he sees her mentors act in these situations.

When I started practicing, I was very lucky to be trained by not only some of the best trial lawyers but also some of the kindest human beings one could ever hope to come across. While still a law student, I had the incredible privilege to learn from two renowned trial lawyers – Bob and Dana Grimes. Bob and his daughter Dana -- well-known in San Diego for being some of the best trial lawyers to ever see the inside of a courtroom – represent criminal defendants, often charged with some horrendous crimes.


Going into that experience, I only imagined how contentious it must be when Bob and Dana were dealing with government attorneys or adverse witnesses. But as I started working with them, something stunned me, Bob and Dana’s reputation amongst prosecutors and judges was perhaps even better than it was with other defense attorneys. Instead of having to call and beg and yell to the district attorney or US Attorney for a reduction in charges, Bob and Dana were always on the receiving end of the calls being asked by the prosecutors what they needed. I didn’t understand.


But for a year and a half I watched. I watched as Bob and Dana never forgot the name of any attorney, witness or even juror they had ever met. I watched as Bob and Dana greeted every single person they came across with a smile. I watched as Bob and Dana always went out of their way to help other attorneys and demonstrate genuine kindness. To me, this was not only refreshing, but it was transformational. To this day, I would challenge you to find a single attorney, judge, client or witness Bob or Dana have ever some across who have a single negative word to say about either of them. I truly believe you cannot find one. The reason is that the dignity, courtesy and grace Bob and Dana practiced with, is who they are as people as well. This is not a gimmick. They are extraordinarily kind human beings.

But something else is highly relevant from this lesson as well. Bob and Dana are also two of the most successful criminal defense lawyers in Southern California over the last 40 years. Their genuine kindness and warm attitude with every lawyer they come across has paid dividends every day – from getting better results for their clients to getting referrals from adversaries.

For me though, this lesson was even more impactful. While I am trial lawyer, I abhor conflict – especially when unnecessary. My belief is that 98% of conflict in lawsuits is completely avoidable if lawyers practiced with a little more courtesy, and if they understood all intentional conflict does is waste time and energy. I believe that results would be better for both sides if lawyers understood that being zealous does not require flexing your muscles at every turn. My belief is that being kind and developing a rapport with an opposing lawyer or even an opposing party is actually the very best way you can zealously advocate for your clients.

Kacie and I have decided to start this firm with this being one of our guiding principles – we will always practice dignity, courtesy and kindness – because ultimately our clients will do better if we do. If you don’t believe, just look up Bob and Dana Grimes’ record…

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San Diego, CA 92122

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