A loved one tells a story about a lawsuit he was involved in many years ago. His business was being sued for unfair competition, and after a day of very intense and heated depositions, the client saw his lawyer and the other side’s lawyer having a beer at the hotel bar. My loved one was pissed. Fuming. He fired his lawyer the next morning (or so he tells the story).
Over a beer?
This weekend my brother gave me a book – Think Like a Lawyer – Don’t Act Like One. The book contains 75 rules to follow – and #10 is simply – CREATE GOODWILL. “If you’ve got your rival’s goodwill, he is less likely to take you for a ride.Goodwill prevents conflicts. Develop goodwill by investing in a personal relationship….Friendship first, then down to business.”
So now we have two extremes – Friends First (from the book) and Always Adversaries (from family).
The beer story has bothered me for years. If I were fired in every case where I was kind to, laughed with, shared a moment of levity with, or a personal story with opposing counsel – I wouldn’t have any cases or clients. I see opposing counsel at the farmer’s market on Saturday morning, at church on Sunday, they may dine in my restaurant, or socialize with mutual friends. Does that mean we can’t represent our clients as zealous advocates? No. It doesn’t, but I do see where the appearance of friendship can be troubling for clients to witness without context.
So, I have for years tried to explain to my clients, what my relationship is like and experience is like with the other side’s lawyers. Do I know them? Trust them? Are we friends outside of the office? Had past cases? Are we connected on social media, or attend the same clubs, or church? I try to lay it all out there – so my client hears from me, what kind of relationship exists and what kind of person represents the other side.
I have even explained that I have no conflict with the lawyers – rather, we represent conflicting points of view. Most clients appreciate this and can accept court room pleasantries as part of a civil law practice. Those who feel adversarial positions further the interests of their case rather than respectful communications and mutual respect, will likely want to find another attorney.
But what I try to do – is be the messenger myself. Better they hear it from me, than see me at the bar drinking beer and assume I can no longer be their zealous advocate with someone against someone I know personally.