Rudy Heitz was my civil procedure professor in law school. He taught one of my first classes. Professor Heitz seemed like an old man when he taught us, probably because he had been a lawyer for 43 years when he was teaching me in 1977.

Rudy Heitz was my civil procedure professor in law school. He taught one of my first classes. Professor Heitz seemed like an old man when he taught us, probably because he had been a lawyer for 43 years when he was teaching me in 1977.

I don’t know his full background, but he mentioned to us that he had practiced law as a defense lawyer representing railroads. He was an entertaining professor and was prone to say whatever was on his mind.

One of his memorable quotes was his comment one day that a wife was like a spare tire; you have to have a good one. Of course, 40 percent of my class was women, so that did not set well with that group, but I don’t think he cared. Yet, he was the dean of the Kansas City University Law School in 1948 when the first African American student was admitted to the school, so he was progressive in his own way.

Professor Heitz taught us jurisdiction and procedure in civil cases, but he also gave us instruction on the practice of law. He strongly encouraged us to be civil to each other and to treat each other with respect. He indicated that we should treat others like we would want to be treated. He told us a story about a lawyer who was very difficult to deal with on cases. Everyone disliked the lawyer, as he approached every case with bare knuckles and was not respectful of other lawyer’s schedules. So Professor Heitz told us they killed the lawyer. We were all stunned by his words, but then he explained.

We lawyers know who the difficult lawyers are and we talk among ourselves. Some lawyers are just hard to love. You wonder sometimes if their mothers even loved them. Rudy Heitz described this lawyer they “killed” as that kind of lawyer.

Professor Heitz explained that the lawyers who opposed this difficult lawyer decided together that they would not give him a break on anything. There would be no extensions of time, which are customary, and no continuances. If the lawyer wanted to be difficult, they would play by the rules, never vary from the rules and therefore make life difficult for him.

They didn’t actually kill him, but he died of a massive heart attack from all of the stress.

I am sure other circumstances such as family history of heart disease, lifestyle choices and diet contributed to the lawyer’s demise, but undoubtedly stress played a role as well.

I have tried to live by Professor Heitz’ lessons and have a reputation for being easy to get along with on cases. There is a time to put on your battle gear and go to war, but you have to pick your battles. Whether a case is continued or a time deadline is extended is not a battle that needs to be fought in most circumstances. If a lawyer wants an extension of time from me, I extend the courtesy of giving that extension, unless the lawyer is abusing the privilege.

There are lawyers who will do what my partner calls “slow walking” you. By this, he means that the opposing lawyer will appear to be cooperative and easy to get along with but will use delays to put you in a bind so that when the trial date is approaching, you are not ready because of the delays and failure to cooperate from opposing counsel. We know who those lawyers are, and we deal with them differently.

A friend of mine sent me an order from federal court in Kansas recently in which an application for continuance of the case was opposed by the plaintiff’s counsel, even though the lead counsel’s wife was about to deliver a baby. The federal judge was appalled that the lawyer would oppose the continuance and with very clever words criticized the lawyer for opposing the continuance. He ended the order by stating: “This judge is convinced of the importance of federal court, but he has always tried not to confuse what he does with who he is, nor to distort the priorities of his day job with his life’s role. Counsel are encouraged to order their priorities similarly. Defendant’s Motion (to continue the case) is granted, and the Ermans (expectant couple) are CONGRATULATED.”

This judge was not in my civil procedure class, but someone similar to Professor Heitz must have taught him the same lesson as we were taught. My partner encountered a similar situation a few years ago where the opposite occurred. He was in the midst of a trial and his father passed away during the trial. Rather than continue the trial, the judge insisted that one of my other partners step in and begin handling the case while my partner attended to funeral arrangements. My partner, while grieving, finished the trial successfully, but that judge had a different teacher than I did.

We lawyers talk a lot about civility, and most strive to abide. As the judge says, we should not distort the priorities of our day job with our role in life. We are spouses, parents, children and grandparents and those responsibilities should come first, and we pray that most judges have the same priorities.

We should not confuse what we do with who we are.