The Importance of Courtesy
All advocates, at some point during their careers, encounter instances of snobbery and insolence. Such experiences are disconcerting, regardless of whether they originate from a colleague, an opponent, or a member of the bench. This was no different for Benjamin Aina. In fact, as a person of color navigating a predominantly White profession, Aina ran into more than his fair share of discourtesy. As a young child, he was forced to deal with a noteworthy amount of bullying in school. As a young barrister in chambers, he carried the burden of shattering negative stereotypes of Black attorneys. Before the judiciary, Aina was silenced and ignored; judges did not take him seriously until he proved his competence.
Perhaps it is no surprise then, that when asked what he admired most in an opponent, and what he considered the most important quality in an advocate, Aina answered with a single word: courtesy. Among respected barristers and within the wider legal profession, Aina maintained, everybody is intelligent, everybody is a quick learner, and everybody works hard. But not everyone is polite. In Aina’s view, the advocate who garners the most admiration and who finds genuine success, is the advocate who is courteous. This advocate interacts with his colleagues respectfully, refuses to look down on others, and considers the arguments of his opponents with an open mind.
The advocate who garners the most admiration and who finds genuine success,
is the advocate who is courteous
As a distinguished Queen’s Counsel with decades of experience litigating important cases in Britain’s highest courts, Aina would have inevitably happened upon some of the world’s best legal minds. In compiling a mental list of the components of a great attorney, one would expect the usual: an impressive intellect, a developed sense of tenacity, a disposition to relentless challenge. The list goes on. These qualities are undoubtedly vital, but to those with profound insight into the nature of the craft of advocacy, like Aina, there is a human, emotional aspect that appears to go under-appreciated. Aina’s words are a sober reminder that litigation is not a solo endeavor. As much as Hollywood would have us believe otherwise, an advocate’s role is not to bask in the spotlight, self-consumed. An advocate’s role, rather, is to argue, persuade, and ultimately convince, all of which require a great deal of courtesy.