Tips for attorneys: how to deal with awful opposing counsel
I've been a lawyer for about three years. The other lawyer has been mean to me since day one. Today we are arguing in court. I win the motion. The judge signs the order. There are no copy machines in the courtroom. We need to take the order down to the clerk's office, copy and then file it.
The lawyer is holding the order. Once we are out of the judge's earshot, he says something derogatory. I trail him to the copy machine. He puts the order on it. Drops in some change. Makes his copy. I am waiting for him to get out of the way so I can put my change in. He won't move. I reach over to drop the change in. He snarls at me not to touch the machine. Tells me to give him the change and he will do it. Says he doesn't trust me. Am so stunned that I hand over the change. Careful to make sure I don't touch his fingers.
Welcome to the world of nasty lawyers. They are not the norm. Thank heavens. But they most certainly do exist.
Two decades have passed since the Mr. You-Can't-Be-Trusted-To-Make-A-Copy episode. Here are some of the strategies that have helped me to deal with awful opposing counsel:
- Severe all emotionality with the lawyer. You are the professor watching this interesting/silly specimen flail about in its petri dish.
- The louder they yell, the calmer you grow.
- Don't trust anything they say - document everything.
- Be gracious, sweet, kind, even solicitous in your writings. Instead of saying: Dear Bad Attorney you are a mean jerk. Say - Dear George - thank you so much for your most recent letter. I greatly enjoyed reading it. There are a few areas where you were a little mistaken in your beliefs. Here, let me spell them out for you. I know that sometimes it is hard for you to keep these details straight. I'm honored to be able to help you do your job better. If you need my assistance again in the future. Then by all means. Simply ask. I'm happy to help.
- Protect your client. This is what motions for protective order are for. Dealing with rude lawyers is an occupational hazard that we need to be prepared for. But our clients are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Fight for them!
- Protect your staff. Pick on me all you want, but leave staff out of it. If the line is crossed, ice the lawyer. They will have to communicate in writing or via our direct phone line.
- Keep a sense of humor.
Speaking of which, I leave you with a true story. You will wonder who the awful opposing counsel was in this one.
I am a teenager paralegal for my mom. We are in trial on a terrible "war of the roses" type divorce case. There is a break in action. The courtroom space is small. The husband's lawyer needs to walk behind my mom's chair to get to the door. She has a big square briefcase on the floor by her chair. He walks by and kicks her briefcase. Apparently to move it. My mom, in all of her 5'2" glory, comes roaring up out of her chair. And socks him. Hard. He pushes her back. They are tussling in the middle of the courtroom.
The judge comes back on the bench. He hasn't seen this but somehow has heard of it. Probably from his staff. He scolds the two boxers. The trial continues.
Photo: Mom and me at Marshall Park 2012