Recently, I had a client tell me I was weak because I did
not yell at a mediator during mediation. Initially, I was dumbfounded by the
comment. But after thinking about it for a while, I realized Hollywood is partially to
blame for a lack of professionalism in our practice of law.
Thanks to television shows like Ally McBeal, Suits, The
Practice, Bull, et cetera, a good attorney swears at opposing counsel, conducts
ambush by trial, intimidates judges and never gives an inch while
negotiating—in short, the more aggressive and offensive, the better. Sadly,
this portrayal of non-professionalism lawyering by Hollywood has led to a belief by many litigants
that if their attorney does not act in an outrageous manner, they must be weak
In my 22+ years as a litigator and trial attorney, I have found
the opposite to be true. Blustering and rude attorneys only do a disservice to
their clients in the eyes of opposing counsel and the bench. On too many occasions, I have witnessed
opposing counsel lose all credibility to the extent that their arguments and
positions were virtually ignored. I call them the Wolf attorney, you know, the “I’ll
huff, I’ll puff, I’ll blow your case down.”
Good lawyers aggressively and tirelessly research their case
and legal theories, write succinctly and persuasively, and negotiate
strategically. Good lawyers do not argue the merits of their case to opposing
counsel on the phone or in a hallway, they let their motions and work product
speak for themselves.
Good lawyers are professionals who strictly adhere to the
Rules of Professional Conduct and cooperate with opposing counsel unless and
until given a reason not to.
Importantly, Good lawyers assess their client’s cases to the best of
their ability, often having to tell the client what they do not want to hear.
Good lawyers treat judges and their staffs with respect and
deference, realizing that politeness and dignity are gifts well returned.
American litigation is an adversarial process that rewards
the winner and punishes the loser. Of course, there is a time and place to be
aggressive, hard-hitting and uncompromising. But those times most often are
limited to legal briefing and on rare occasions, cross-examination.
A great attorney zealously represents a client in a highly
professional, efficient and effective manner. Most often, this conduct does not
include pointing fingers, raising voices or pounding fists. If that’s the
attorney you are seeking, perhaps your time and money will be better spent
binge watching a few episodes of the aforementioned TV shows.