In all but the rarest instances, I come away from a lawsuit with a clearer memory of my opponent’s lawyer than of the opponent. When I get involved in a new case, I’ll often do some research to see who I’m up against. Is she a solo or a member of a firm? Have my colleagues dealt with her in prior cases, or do I know anything about her by reputation (which, as we know, can be grossly inaccurate). As we wind through the case, I form or refine my impression of her. Generally, by the end of a case, we part ways either as friends or at least as professionals. Even in those instances in which I’ve had to be aggressive, I try not to let it get too personal.
That’s not to say I always finish a case feeling “respect” for my opponent. Let’s face it, some lawyers just don’t deserve it. And, while I don’t like to generalize, I can identify four categories of opposing counsel for whom I don’t usually feel respect at the end of the day. Are you one of these?
The Overt Asshole
This post (the entire blog, for that matter) is built on the assumption that lawyers are not per se assholes. If you hold the opposite view, then I’m not writing for you–go back to playing Farmville on Facebook.
It’s not hard to gain entry into this category, at least in my book. Refuse courtesy extensions, yell at me or my client during a deposition, make threats you know you could never carry out, insult my client, my ethics or my skills, talk down to me . . . You get the picture. What’s surprising is how seldom I’ve finished a case and branded my opponent an Overt Asshole. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that I can think of more lawyers representing co-defendants who qualified for this title than lawyers representing parties who sued my clients.
Ah, the truth-challenged. Even nations at war are expected to adhere to a code of ethics. There’s a special circle in hell for those that don’t, and the same is true for lawyers. Telling lies is just dirty pool and should never be rewarded. Even on those instances in which it could be harmless, it degrades our profession. I’m not talking here about Bill Clinton-style fibbing under oath (though that sucks, too, but for different reasons). I’m referring to making blatant misrepresentations to the court orally or in papers. I’ve found there is often an overlap between The Liar and the Overt Asshole.
Some lawyers think it’s strategically advantageous to be your Bestie from the get-go. This isn’t to say a genuine friendship can’t grow out of litigating a case together. I can count a handful of former opposing counsel whom I consider true friends. But when there’s an obvious strategic motive behind playing the role of best friend while litigating a case–and it’s usually possible to tell if that’s what’s going on–then the BFF is really little different from The Liar, right?
This is the guy who needs a 7-series BMW with extra trunk room for his ego. This is the guy who did pretty good in a trial once and will force his opponents to re-live those moments of glory in Technicolor. This is the guy who boasts to his opponents during deposition that he’s “a different breed.” (True story!) You don’t want to see him in action in front of the jury in this case! You know the type, right? If you don’t, you’ll encounter him some day. There are crossover possibilities here with the Overt Asshole, as well.
Do any of these describe you? In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit to being a little bit of each–except The Liar–at one point or another during the last 20 years. But I guarantee those weren’t my finest moments.