January 01, 2016

King Arthur, Rambo, and the Origins of Civility at the Bar

The chivalric code informs the call for civility that began echoing in the 1980s.

Peter S. Poland

 Download a printable PDF of this article.

Writing around the year 1130, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk, proclaimed in his treatise, In Praise of the New Knighthood, “A new kind of knighthood seems recently to have appeared on the earth . . . one unknown in ages past.” Bernard was heralding the recent creation of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon, better known as the Knights Templar, a crusading order of knights whose mythology has catapulted them into modern popular media. Bernard praised the Templars for harmonizing violent combat with a spiritual, chivalric ethos in contrast to the “worldly warrior”—a mercenary who fights for pay and slays without abiding by ethical codes.

Interesting, maybe, but relevant to today’s litigators? Yes, actually. For all its distance from modernity, the chivalric code informs the call for civility that began echoing in law schools, the private bar, and state and federal courtrooms in the 1980s and continues to do so today. The ethical undercurrent of legal commentary in recent years is clear—civility, slowly vanishing in our profession, is the cornerstone of legal practice and promotes the efficient dispensation of justice, and those who violate the growing number of civility codes promulgated by state and local bars should be punished with court-ordered sanctions.

This article explores two figurative identities, or tropes, of counsel in historical context—the discourteous mercenary and the courteous knight—as they relate to the implementation and development of civility in our profession. By acknowledging these opposing tropes and identifying the ascendancy of each in particular eras, we may better appreciate what our predecessors were, who we are, and what we may become as counsel.

Premium Content For:
  • Litigation Section
Join - Now