Thursday, December 20, 2012

Opposing Counsel: Naughty or Nice?

So you're an attorney.  You're armed with the authority to make decisions for people.  You're equipped with the brilliance to pinpoint the appropriate law to the judge.  And you're block-headed enough to do it with arrogance, obstinacy, and inflexibility.  And you wonder why no one wants to work with you or will consent to an extension. 

I've tried to build relationships with a good deal of people in the legal community.  If I have an appearance on a case that I haven't met the opposing attorney, I try to find a picture of them so I can introduce myself before our case is called.  This isn't everyone's style.  But I've found that the case goes better for both attorneys and both clients when I have a good relationship with the other attorney.  After all, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

One thing I've noticed about attorneys that seem to be hard to deal with -- they're young.  Why do young attorneys feel the need to be tough, stand their ground, or even be inflexible.  No body will think you're incapable because you give ground on the unimportant things.  No body will think less of you if you're kind but firm.  Here's a secret: they'll think higher of you.

In recent weeks I have gotten some choice morsels of advice from some very reputable sources.  Rob Pitkin is an attorney in Kansas City at Levy Craig.  He has been honored as a Super Lawyer since '05 and has been chosen as one of the Best Lawyers in America for the last two years.  We were actually taking about handling other attorneys.  He recounted how he once thought he needed to be tough and hard when handling cases.  He stated that method was inconsistent with who he was.  As he has gotten older, and more experienced, he said that he's found it to be much better to 1) be himself, and 2) be gracious to his opposing counsel.  His words to me: "It's hard to do wrong to someone you like."  The moral? Get to like you're opponent and you'll be easier to work with.  As important is to get to know your opponent and get them to like you.  You'll have more fun with the case, you'll get more out of the case, and you'll have a relationship that WILL come back to benefit you in years to come.

Here's another encounter worth noting: Rod Richardson is the President of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association (KCMBA).  He was discussing how the KCMBA can garner more members this year.  He was telling the leadership team about building relationships with fellow attorneys in the community and inviting them to meetings.  He analogized getting bar membership to practicing against other attorneys.  He implored us to build healthy relationships with our opponents because, "You won't spit on someone you like."  Nearly identical language from two separate veteran practitioners. 

What's the lesson?  Don't be hard to work with, inflexible, or closed down.  This specifically is a call to younger attorneys: Play nice! Be friendly.  You'll do your client AND THE PROFESSION a service if you're nice. 

Or you can be naughty.  And you'll do your client and profession a disservice.  And sooner or later, the judge will give you a lump of coal.

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