Q. I happen to work in one of the professions in which being rude often gets results when being polite does not. I am a lawyer.
Many lawyers are polite and respond well to courtesy, but a significant number interpret courtesy as a sign of weakness and insist on a level of intimacy that would make a talk-show host blush.
Male colleagues at coed luncheons give detailed descriptions of the conception and delivery of their children. Superiors comment publicly on ordinary costume jewelry and hair color. An executive recruiter tells me that a prospective employer is on anti-psychotic medication. Married peers (men) regularly ask me if I am now dating anyone. Receptionists snap: "You weren't cut off. You were disconnected." Adversaries hang up instead of politely saying, "See you in court."
I'm beginning to suspect that one must be willing to roll in the mud in order to practice law. But I just cannot stoop to this level. It seems to me that unless we maintain some standards, the profession will become unbearable.
A. A great many people do believe that the profession is becoming unbearable. These people do not need lawyers to defend them from the results of making such a charge. They are lawyers.
In bar associations all over America, little Miss Mannerses are busy drawing up etiquette guides for the legal profession. It is not only the occasional incident where lawyers have resorted to fisticuffs that has upset them; it is a general deterioration of the standards of what should be a gentlemanly and ladylike, albeit tough, profession.
You, too, suffer from the idea that rudeness is a professional asset, although you don't want to indulge in it.
Nonsense. Judges, juries and clients respond to politeness and are offended by rudeness. And lawyers could not use rudeness to intimidate other lawyers without their cooperation.
You should stop cooperating. It seems to Miss Manners to be professional weakness if you simply yield and let others make the rules.
Personal revelations and questions should be treated as irrelevant. When someone indulges in violations of professional confidence to you, the least you can do is to respond: "Oh, really? Is he making that public knowledge?"
Indeed, the law, like most professions, is tough. Anyone practicing it successfully would have to have the strength to set her own standards and not give in to bullies.
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.