What They Didn’t teach you at the Law School
Law School prepares you to think, write and research like a lawyer, but once you’re at the door of a law firm or a courtroom, there’s a whole new set of skills you need. The present series of articles aims to enrich a new lawyer with all these skills in order for him/her to excel.
Although most of the lawyers are reasonably nice people, but as in any profession, there are some who stray from the civilised path and pepper their interactions with bullying or deception. These practitioners seem to revel in making your life miserable. They send you disparaging letters; say bad things about you in front of their client or raise their voice to upset a new practitioner in you.
Whether their behaviour stems from their personality or is just a tactic to upset you, such lawyers sow disharmony in even routine legal matters. Agreements may not reflect what was discussed in face-to-face meetings; deposed witnesses may become upset; or unreasonable discovery demands may be made.
But remember, you should not take all this personally. You are not the first or the only lawyer who has been treated as such. They do it all the time; so learn to ignore their behaviour and get through the case.
Unprofessional lawyers, when handled correctly, can actually cause more damage to their own cases than to those of opposing counsel.
Much of the practice of law occurs behind the scenes, in offices and at meetings between the parties that don’t involve the decision makers. So, if you’re dealing with somebody who likes to bully, or misrepresent what you’ve said, you need to pay close attention to every statement that’s made by this person and every email that comes across. Make sure you paper the record, confirm agreements in writing, or on the record. Essentially, you need to proceed in a more formal way than you would otherwise.
Even with person-to-person phone calls, it’s important to immediately follow up with an email that creates a record of the discussion and any agreements that were reached.
Be a Thorough Professional
Instead of getting caught up in a tit-for-tat battle, try to resolve disputes and differences of opinions between people.
When bad behaviour erupts during a trial and if the court personnel and the judge perceive that one side is trying to be courteous and professional while the other side isn’t, it never benefits the person who’s being difficult.
If a lawyer gets a reputation that he doesn’t deal civilly with other lawyers, he won’t get the kind of cooperation that, in most circumstances, one needs from the other side to be able to conduct a litigation.
Give Some Space
When the opposing counsel resorts to bad tactics, it can be a good idea to allow a certain amount of such behaviour so that it becomes evident to all the parties involved that it is a pattern.
Find the Reason
If the opposing counsel is yelling or screaming or pounding the table constantly, try to get to the root of what is causing such a behaviour. Is it because he wants to impress his client or is it an attempt to intimidate you? Or is it a signal of weakness, like some people react in a bad situation?
Whatever the reason, try to redirect the conversation; an unexpected change of topic can derail the rant.
Another way to deal with such a situation is to deflect it with humour. When someone is looking for a fight and you don’t fight back, then you’ve been successful.
Report the Behaviour
In the event that the situation between you and the opposing counsel deteriorates to the extreme point, do involve the judge. Although judges don’t want to get involved in such types of disputes, sometimes it becomes necessary.