Dale Carnegie once said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” However, should attorneys want clients to call them by their first names?
As a professional, like most physicians, I prefer to create a little social distance. The courts and Department of Homeland Security make an occasional unsettling deicision. Some of us likely feel comfortable with a more formal title. I don’t want to be called “doctor,” nor “Attorney Dixler,” even if I have a juris doctor degree. Lawyers who practice deserve to be addressed by more than their first names. Otherwise, we desensitize ourselves and the public to our roles in the justice system.
In court, we refer to the police as “officer” and the decision maker as ”judge.” Therefore, attorneys should retain a title that gives them some deferrence as advocates.
I find that the use of the title “Ms.” or “Mr.” along with a surname both anticipated and reasonable. These titles before a surname appropriately distance clients from the attorney just enough, yet give the profession a bit more respect. No difference in age should result in less respect between a lawyer and their clients.
How many physicians wince if they ever watched the USA Network sitcom “Royal Pains?” Now, I appreciate that the character is operating among extremely powerful and wealthy clients. However, it is a fictitious setting. In doing so, character physician Hank Lawson wants to appear as both a friend and confidante to elite clients. He is their “concierge doctor” who can absorb private information and remain endearingly discreet about it just like the butler should.
To me, I sense a loss of respect. The breaking down of an attorney-client relationship seems real, when attorneys insist that clients be on a first name basis. Some minimal barriers should remain. Clients forget that the attorney can be friendly, but they are not only a confidante and representative, but an officer of the court with responsibilities to the public.
In exercising responsibility, lawyers may lose track that these are clients, who have legal challenges that are stressful. I believe an attorney should remain compassionate, yet responsibly distant, when consoling clients. Attorneys don’t make the decisions, keep client confidences, but remain licensed court officials. Again, a title, even if “Mr.” or “Ms.” seems in line with physicians, among others in the justice system, who merit respect.
If attorneys maintain just a bit of formality, then they may keep the practice of law from becoming less frustrating and personal, yet more professional. Over time, perhaps years, a lawyer may decide to drop formalities depending upon the circumstances of a particular attorney-client relationship. However, litigation can take a toll. Client use of an attorney’s first name may appear disrespectful to the practice. At times, a few clients may appear to belittle or mock a professional while they speak on a first name basis.
This does not mean that I frown upon attorneys who insist upon clients using their name. However, when a person really does not know another adult, even a non-attorney, is it more appropriate etiquette among English speaking nations, perhaps with the exception of Australia or Texas, to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” to address adults whom they just contact or meet?
At what age does it seem best to ask whether an adult minds being addressed by their first name? Is it better to avoid the temptation and let the lawyer who is addressed first give permission for someone to use a first name?
Any thoughts? Or do I appear too reactionary to some?