Civility Study


Identifying and Addressing Uncivil Communication

Law library


Fringe Professional Development and the NALP Foundation collaborated on an important and timely study in fall 2018 on the characteristics and impact of incivility in law firms.  The research aims to give law firms the tools to identify and mitigate this critical workplace communications issue, which is documented to have a damaging impact on relationships and reputations if left unaddressed.

Fringe PD Managing Director Rachael Bosch recalls the first time she heard the term “screamer” used to describe an attorney in her office, signaling a much larger problem.

“It wasn’t long after I joined the legal industry that I first heard the term and had to look it up. As it turns out, others in my field were talking about this too. I was not alone. Over time, I grew more aware of the long-term impact of incivility at all levels of the legal profession,” she said.

“Over the next 12 years and at various firms, I witnessed incivility in many forms. There were plenty of overt behaviors and many more subtle ones, as well as rampant uncivil language among peers and directed to staff (including me). The result? Bright, talented attorneys would avoid specific practice areas (or certain partners) — leaving those areas understaffed — or they would abandon the industry altogether in search of more civil pastures.

“In these environments, you could actually feel the apathy and disengagement among both attorneys and administrators. The reality is that incivility in the workplace stifles organizational growth and wastes real talent,” Rachael said.

Communication is strongly connected to productivity, engagement, and attorney well-being.

Difficult working relationships are one of the biggest contributors  to on-the-job stress, which costs companies $300 billion annually. When the ABA’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being recommended in 2017 that the legal industry should actively work to “foster collegiality and respectful engagement,” a clear need emerged for a tool to begin the daunting task of defining, measuring, and addressing incivility at work.

In  September 2018, Fringe PD and NALP sent out the first round of surveys for this research. Responses are completely anonymous and create data only in the aggregate, as a benchmark for the industry overall. No attorney responses are linked to specific firms.

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As we know, what gets measured, gets managed. The best way for us to improve communications inside our firms is to have a robust data set from which to draw insights and measure progress. The more data we have, the better informed we can be as an industry.



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