TV and movies are full of lawyers who are … choose your own adjective, for purposes of this article we are going to use “jerks”. Real life, of course, contains some lawyers who are jerks, but they are truly a small minority of the profession.
The question remains – do you want your lawyer, your attorney, to be a jerk? Not a jerk toward you, of course, but toward the opposition or other party, whether in a real estate litigation case or a business law contractual negotiation?
Some people want that, or think they want that. Some lawyers – perhaps especially those who grew up more recently, when TV characters became more nasty – think that being a jerk is part of being a lawyer, and that’s what they should be.
There is a huge difference between an attorney being assertive and a strong advocate for a client versus being a jerk. Being “tough” is too often confused with being a jerk. Your lawyer being a jerk toward the opposition is unlikely to help you, while on the other hand it: (A) may harm your case; and (B) will certainly make your legal situation more expen$ive. We’ll explain why.
How Your Attorney Being A Jerk Might Harm Your Lawsuit.
What do most people – perhaps especially these days – do when they feel attacked? They get angry and either counterattack or get defensive.
A lawyer who is being a jerk to a witness is almost certainly going to cause that witness to be hostile, or more hostile. That hostility will be directed at the attacking lawyer and the attacking lawyer’s client(s). Having testimony that is even more “against” your own client is typically harmful.
You might be thinking “Yes, but attacking might lead to the witness making a mistake or being caught in a lie!” Sure, that can happen. But a more effective technique, which also doesn’t have the downside risk, is for a lawyer to use a calm and precise approach which leads the witness where the lawyer wants the testimony and evidence to go.
Another aspect of this which most clients would not have a reason to be aware of is the perception of others (especially a judge and/or jury) and how they react to your lawyer’s behavior. A lawyer who behaves like a jerk is ultimately not going to be liked by a judge or most of a jury, is not going to get the benefit of the doubt from those very important persons, and will not be as credible.
How Your Attorney Being A Jerk Might Harm Your Contract Negotiation.
There are other negative ways in which a lawyer’s rude behavior can harm a client. Contract negotiations, by their nature, include the lawyer huddling with the client and then going back and forth with the other side. Communicating the client’s position calmly and professionally increases the chances that the other side won’t just knee-jerk react negatively.
If I, as your lawyer, send proposed changes in a reasonable and professional manner, I am putting you in a better position to succeed. If I’m a jerk about it, or even if the proposed contractual changes are written in an unnecessarily off-putting manner, I’m harming your chances of getting what you want.
How Your Attorney Being A Jerk Makes Your Legal Matter More Expen$ive.
First, some background information: for most common legal deadlines during a lawsuit, the parties / their attorneys can mutually agree to one or more extensions without having to get court approval and without having to have a court hearing.
This scenario is very common in the world of litigation:
- Defendant has a legal deadline coming up;
- Defendant’s attorney wants an extension of that deadline; and
- Defendant’s attorney asks Plaintiff’s attorney to agree to an extension.
If the Defendant’s attorney has been a jerk, of course the Plaintiff / Plaintiff’s attorney is much less likely to agree to an extension. If there is no such agreement, then Defendant’s attorney is faced with 2 choices: rushing to meet the deadline or scheduling a court hearing to seek a court order extending the deadline. Both of those are bad for the Defendant – congratulations, you just paid your attorney a few thousand dollars to attend a court hearing that most likely could have been avoided if the attorney hadn’t been a jerk – with no guarantee you’ll even get the extension.
There are many, many instances during a typical lawsuit in which the parties / their attorneys have the opportunity to cooperate, and almost always, each side will want one or more instances of cooperation from the other side. Handling such things cooperatively and without having to hold a court hearing is almost always better for all and is always less expensive.
Don’t Forget About The Stress And The Emotional Toll
We all know that feeling – just in regular life – when there is an email, phone call, mail item received, or even text message and we know (or think we know) it’s going to be hostile or about a stressful topic. Now, think about being in a lawsuit or some other legal dispute or in an intense contract negotiation and the stress that brings. Then, add the hostility / increased hostility factor which comes when your attorney is a jerk.
Each and every communication or development is more likely to be a stressful one, or have increased stress attached to it versus how it could have been. The emotional toll this takes (which attorneys are not immune from) can accumulate rapidly and have serious negative consequences in your life and in your case.
There is no doubt that acting like a jerk is usually a poor choice for an attorney. Attorneys should know (or learn) how to be tough without being a jerk, and they should steer their clients toward productive behavior as well.