An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: “argument to the man”, “argument against the man”) consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim. The process of proving or disproving the claim is thereby subverted, and the argumentum ad hominem works to change the subject. –

Maybe it is the stress of the holidays, but I’ve received two ad hominems this week, one against me and one against a client of mine, from opposing counsel who ought to know better.

The first accuses me of asserting a right without any legal basis and the writer says “as I have come to see your conduct, it does not surprise me.”

The second says “Frankly, it is puzzling that [your client] would fight for custody in light of his apparent disinterest in taking parental responsibility.” Father’s rights challenged again.

Now you have to be fairly thick-skinned to be a divorce lawyer, and litigation is pretty rough and tumble in the heat of battle, so I don’t lose a lot of sleep over things like this.  But there is a Code of Civility in both jurisdictions where I practice, that says lawyers should treat opposing counsel and opposing parties with respect and courtesy.

Both of these ad hominems are unnecessary attempts to say “Shame on you.”  If anything they are counterproductive because they only cause the recipient to dig in their heels and redouble their efforts to prove them wrong.  So think twice before you hit the send button, reread your letter, and make sure it contains only those matters which move the case forward.

And for those who celebrate Christmas, remember that Santa is watching.