While I was visiting colleges during my senior year of high school, I clearly remember a quite unusual individual. She must have been in her late 60’s with grey hair and a slender build. But it wasn’t her age or looks that made her unusual. Rather, it was her response to my asking where the main building was located on campus. She smiled at me, apologized for pointing, and then used an open hand, palm facing down, to point me in the correct direction. She introduced herself and added, with a genuine gesture, that I should ask for her if I had any additional questions.
For years, I wondered why this exchange struck me so and imprinted permanently in my memory. I realize now, years later, that it was the woman’s politeness, manners and decorum that stood out from so many other individuals I met at that school. Ever since that time, I have strived to emulate that behavior, taking a genuine interest in the people I meet. My endeavors in this regard have also crossed over into my professional life. When speaking to someone on the phone that I do not know, I ask their name and make a point to use it during the conversation. I use words like “please” and “thank you.” And yes, when having to point to a location or direction, I first apologize for pointing and then use an open hand, palm facing down.
Unfortunately, in the modern era, this type of etiquette has been largely forgotten. Individuals are no longer considerate of others, or even think twice about the words and actions they use with their friends, colleagues, and even strangers. In the legal profession, however, forgetting one’s manners can be dangerous. In a Motion Hearing a few years ago, opposing counsel was not appropriately dressed for the occasion. The JCC specifically took note of counsel’s attire and admonished the attorney on the record. In another case, an adjuster provided testimony that was trite, obnoxious, and borderline rude to the questioning of the opposing attorney. In the Final Compensation Order, not only was the adjuster specifically reprimanded for this behavior, but the Judge also ruled in the claimant’s favor, finding the adjuster was disingenuous and purposefully holding off on providing benefits in an attempt to force the claimant to settle.
It is very easy in the Workers’ Compensation field to become comfortable and complacent. Our community tends to be a bit more laid back and relaxed than other legal fields. Generally speaking, adjusters and attorneys have positive working relationships, as do defense attorneys and claimant’s counsel. But by becoming too comfortable and familial, it is easy to forget that the law demands a certain level of etiquette and decorum, even in Workers’ Compensation. And if, by chance, such “unusual” behavior spilled over into our everyday lives, perhaps we also can be remembered for the politeness and dignity with which we treat others and ourselves.