Young, New Lawyers: Get Rid of “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am”

Every summer I make my personal suggestion to our younger, summer law student associates that they stop using “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am”, etc.   In most cases their response is that it is a learned habit showing respect.   This is not a surprise.  And, BTW, this blog post is solely my own personal view.  I speak for no one else.

But, my long-held personal perspective is that “Yes Sir / Ma’am” is appropriate only in situations where one’s role is purposely ranked and subordinate as part of the job.   And, the only situation I think that fits this role is the military.   I have no opposition to “Yes Sir / Ma’am” in that case.

But, I oppose its use in virtually all other cases.   I do not see other relationships as a purposeful subordination, such as, merely for examples, adult-child, teacher-student, lawyer-assistant, boss-employee, office worker-janitorial staff, dinner customer-server, and so forth.

Here is a thought.  And, some readers will likely disagree.  The idea that “respect” is the basis for “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” is a red-herring. Only those already in a dominant position of power (or at least they think so of themselves) get hung-up on others showing respect.   By contrast, my view is that respect means equality.  And, under that notion I owe no one a “Yes Sir” and they owe me no “Yes Sir”.  We are equals.

Finally, I end this blog with a legal point readers might find interesting.  The State of Louisiana has a state law that mandates its schools require the use by students of “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” when any public school student is speaking with any public school system employee while on school property or at a school-sponsored event.  Click here for the law.

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