Most of the time, for most of us, conflict can be a very unpleasant experience, one that most of us are not inclined to enjoy. Judging from the testimony of attorneys at law, though, this experience of conflict is a common one. In my own limited experience in dealing with the practical aspects of our adversarial legal system, namely as a volunteer in Teen Court and as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate, my experience has been that the world of those engaged in law is a fairly small world, and that there is often a collegial atmosphere between those who would be viewed as adversaries in a legal action. For example, a lawyer who represents a child in a foster care case may find themselves in a different case representing one of the parents who is dealing with the foster care system, and may find themselves opposing the same counsel in both cases because of just how few firms deal with family law in many jurisdictions (including my own). This sort of experience encourages a collegial atmosphere, it might be well admitted.
How is this so? In adversarial systems, those who oppose each other can be encouraged to see this opposition as being professional rather than personal. We may recognize that we are people of skill and competence involved in acts protecting people and institutions and working against other people engaged in the same effort, with respect for ourselves, for others, as well as for the institutions that we serve. It has been interesting to hear stories of lawyers talking about how they would spend all day opposing someone else in court, vigorously objecting and pointing out to disagreements about the interpretation of law and evidence, and then end with a friendly drink with said lawyers once court is done for the day. There are a great many anecdotal accounts of attorneys having friendly random encounters with each other when court is not in session and that is something I have personally seen in the small courtrooms that I have personally observed.
What are the benefits for having respect for the tribunal of the court? We do not often think that respecting others has a sometimes immediate benefit for ourselves, as most of the benefits of respect are in the long game. (I have discussed this elsewhere, for example, when it comes to honoring parents and others in authority in part because of our hope to join them someday in authority.) Yet this immediate benefit is often the case when we are involved in a situation like that found by lawyers. Lawyers understand that in an adversarial system of justice where there are contrasting sides like offense and defense that there will be strong competition between those representing both sides, especially where there is a shared understanding that all people and cases are worthy of a vigorous defense no matter how unpleasant the parties themselves or how difficult it is to make a case. This shared understanding means that we do not take the vigorous opposition of opposing counsel as personal–we understand that they have the same commitment to providing a rigorous offense as we might have for a defense and vice versa, and so long as we maintain a shared commitment to ethics and integrity, there is a wide realm of space left for that opposition to exist without harming a personal relationship.
It appears that such a phenomenon is unfortunately all too lacking when it comes to dealing with areas of disagreement. Those of us who have not established norms of dealing with opposition that is not personal but rather positional in nature tend to have problems with those who vigorously defend their views and vigorously oppose our own. Having a respect for the tribunal, that is, the realm of competition of those views where the truth and our views of it can be openly expressed, without leading us to personally despise others or hold them in contempt simply because they are on another side or simply have another perspective, helps to reduce the level of hostility we feel about opposition. In our present age, such norms of friendly opposition appear to be rapidly diminishing, and our ethical concerns about winning the right way seem to be similarly going by the wayside. We do ourselves great harm when we deny ourselves the opportunity to have friends among people who may oppose us in one area or another but who view us and are viewed by us as still being worthy of respect anyway as decent people who find it necessary to oppose each other without being disagreeable or unpleasant about it.