Every lawyer occasionally receives a responsive pleading from an opposing counsel with whom they are not familiar. When this happens to me, I typically ask around about the lawyer. On one such occasion, I received answers that I will never forget:
“He is the most pleasant and gentlemanly lawyer you will ever deal with, but he will disembowel you.”
“He is honest as the day is long and a pleasure to deal with, but he will destroy you.”
“He is a pleasure to deal with, but you need to bring your A game because he is one of the best lawyers you will ever run into.”
This struck me, because what stood out to everyone first about this lawyer was how gracious and pleasant he was. But, everyone considered him to be an elite lawyer. This seemed counterintuitive at the time. But sure enough, this lawyer unconditionally granted extensions, treated me fairly and with respect even though I was fresh out of law school, openly complimented my skills in front of my client, and then proceeded to decisively win the pivotal motion hearing in the case. He was an absolute assassin in the court room, but he was friendly and respectful inside and outside of the courtroom. Think 007 with a Southern accent.
On the other side of the coin, there are lawyers who make the practice of law excruciating. They talk down to you and remind you of how much longer than you they have been practicing law. They apply pressure by putting you in a position that makes you look bad to your client. They fight you on extensions and pleading amendments, bicker over procedural minutia, memorialize every conversation you have with them in a letter or email, and otherwise make a case about everything besides the merits. Are some of these good lawyers? Absolutely. They are some of the best lawyers who get great results for their clients.
But what happens when I have a conflict and need to refer a case to someone? I’m sending the work to the genteel assassin every time. The practice of law is stressful enough without making everything more difficult than it needs to be or should be, and good behavior should be rewarded. Plus, as my grandmother used to say, “the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s backside every day.” The lawyer who needs a professional courtesy today may be the lawyer from whom a professional courtesy is needed tomorrow.
The scope of this post should not be limited to opposing attorneys. Court staff, legal support staff, your employees, wait staff in restaurants, parking attendants, police officers, and everyone else we encounter in the world are human beings and should be treated with respect and kindness. This should be done because it is the right thing to do, but for those who need a monetary incentive, it has the added benefit of creating a network of potential referral sources who will remember you next time someone they know needs a lawyer.