Regretfully, I have significant experience with this week's topic. At one point or another, we will all encounter it; you get roped into a case where opposing counsel is a magnificent jerk. There are several options at your disposal, and you have to choose one. Do you fight fire with fire? Do you call them out on their unsavory demeanor? Do you go about your business as usual and try not to let them see the vein bulge out at your temple every time they open their mouth? Oh, options.
Based on my experience, there is no "correct" answer, but there is one absolute rule: we must always, always, ALWAYS deal with it in a professional manner. Here are some tips for handling these scenarios, illustrated by my hilariously unfortunate experiences (anonymously, of course).
SCENARIO ONE: The Boundary Blaster
This case involved my third trial ever as a new lawyer. My relationship with opposing counsel (OPC) started off in a less than delightful manner. OPC changed a hearing date the afternoon before the date it was to be scheduled by contacting the judge without my permission. Shady.
As the case continued along, I found that OPC was not only shady, but also lacked any discernible boundaries. I received a non-urgent call from OPC on my personal cell phone, on a SUNDAY. Not to mention the flood of emails in my work in-box all weekend long. As a hard-working professional specializing in an emotionally charged area of law, boundaries are crucial for me. Needless to say, this contact pushed me over the edge. So, here is how I dealt with the Boundary Blaster: I made OPC conform to MY timeline.
First, I informed reception to always take a message or send the call to voicemail when this OPC called. That way, I could handle issues as they arose within my work hours only. OPC called at 7:00 p.m.? Too bad, straight to voicemail. Second, I had a frank but respectful discussion with OPC. I told OPC that I do not, under any circumstances, take work calls on my personal cell phone unless it is an unequivocal emergency. Second, I informed OPC that I will not negotiate or work on weekends unless I plan to do so in advance. Clients can't agree on something? Unless it is a matter of immediate personal safety, it can wait until Monday. Third, I treated OPC as I would like to be treated. I did not place calls or send faxes after hours, I did not call OPC's personal phone. And when OPC referred to my client using nasty language, I simply said, "let's keep it professional, shall we?" I also extended to OPC every professional courtesy I could, sending OPC the message that I was not willing to be petty over our initial bad encounter.
None of these techniques changed OPC, but they kept me sane, and that was the important part.
SCENARIO TWO: The Misogynist
The Misogynist was a real piece of work. This OPC's offenses included calling me "dear," telling me that I, "was young and pretty and new, and would learn how this works when I got older," and informing my male co-worker that the only reason OPC refused to accept a settlement offer from me was because I was new and I needed to "learn that I can't just bat my lashes and get my way." What a peach.
On this one, I knew I had to take a stand and fight fire with fire. Professionally, of course. I know I would have other cases against this OPC, and I had to stand my ground. I worked over the weekend, but on Monday at our first day in our trial department, I slammed OPC a 45 page trial brief. It settled.
My sincerest hope is that none of my readers have these experiences, but the longer we stay in this business, the more likely we will encounter a bad opposing counsel. Above all, my advice is to stand your ground, stay polite, and stay professional. You cannot force people to change, but you CAN keep your boundaries, sanity, and professional reputation.
READERS: Similar Experience? Share your story and solutions in the comments!