We deal with difficult people everywhere, really. At work, we may have to deal with difficult people as co-workers, as customers, as vendors, and as bosses, just to name a few.
Difficult people come in all shapes and sizes. The street bully is the difficult person who yells and throws insults to get his or her way. The silent killer uses passive-aggressive tactics to wage wars based on sabotage. In today’s post, though, I have in mind the rough and rude bully type–the difficult person who pushes his or her way around like a bull in a china store and expects everyone to jump into action at his or her command.
The ABA Journal recently asked its readers how they deal with difficult people of a particularly difficult variety–opposing counsel in litigation. As a general rule, I have had very positive relationships with opposing counsel. In fact, many of my opposing counsel have become very good friends of mine, whose friendship I value tremendously. Particularly in Delaware, where we value civility and professionalism as a foundation of the practice of law, my interactions with the lawyer on the other side of the table is a positive one more often than not.
That said, there certainly have been times when I have had to deal with a lawyer on the other side who, it seems to me, insists on being unreasonable or who routinely uses bully tactics in an effort to get his or her way. These interactions trouble me a great deal and, unfortunately, tend to change the way the case is litigated. Perhaps it is because this happens so infrequently (thank goodness), that I have given these bullies a good deal of thought once the interaction or case is over.
There are a few mantras that I do my best to remember when getting screamed at by another lawyer or having to deal with a lawyer who uses threats as strategy. I share them here both as a reminder to myself and in the hopes that readers may be able to put them to use in their time of need.
Mean people are scared people.
If my opposing counsel is yelling at me, I know he’s scared of something I’ve said or he thinks I am going to say. Either I have an actual advantage or he thinks I do. I’m happy to have either.
A lawyer who can’t control his temper can’t control his case.
If my opposing counsel spends hours writing lengthy letters and multiple emails filled with ridicule and scathing commentary, he is not spending his time preparing his case, reviewing the facts, or coming up with new legal arguments and strategy. A distracted opponent is fine by me.
Sticks ‘n stones may break my bones (and even hurt my feelings), but they won’t affect my client’s case.
At the end of the case, nasty comments and raised voices are irrelevant. The outcome of the case–whether by settlement, by verdict, or by judicial decision–will not include a scorecard of baseless accusations made or declare a winner for worst-mannered, most uncivil lawyer. The case will be decided on the application of the law to facts, as argued by the more effective lawyer, so it’s best not to focus on anything else.
So, turning back to the question posed by the ABA Journal, “how do you deal with rude opposing counsel?” My answer is easy. I win.