You Can Say “No” Without Saying “No, #@!%$”
When I saw this month’s theme, I had to chime in. One thing I learned early in my legal career is that being polite is the best way to go. I have spent most of my time as a litigator and construction attorney as a relatively soft spoken and hopefully civil practitioner of my trade. I have always thought that while the clients may be justifiably upset (read “pissed off”) at each other, the lawyers don’t have to be.
I have also been lucky to be part of a bar here in Virginia where most of the attorneys that I deal with return that civility in kind. I have rarely had to raise my voice with another attorney and for that I am grateful.
However, I, like most of us, do occasionally encounter a less than civil attorney that seeks to attack my character instead of my case. Many posts have been written on how to deal with this situation, both here at Small Firm Innovation, and elsewhere. I won’t re-hash that ground in this post.
I have also encountered the occasional client that believes that they need a “bulldog” on their side. These clients are prone to equate “polite” with “pushover” and this can be an issue. While these clients may at first be a bit painful to deal with (and need some education), several of these have become some of my best clients. Once I have had a chance to show them that one can say “no” and remain firmly in the client’s camp without resorting to “no @#!&%” (a lesson that one of my early bosses taught me), the client tends to realize that civil is more effective than the alternative.
Aside from the fact that we just ought to be more polite, being civil is just more effective. There will be a time when you need a favor from opposing counsel and that attorney will remember that you helped them out in the past. Getting cooperation from the other side can, and generally does, save your client money because it means that every motion does not need to be argued. It also means that trial can be streamlined through agreement on those things not at issue. Clients need to understand that not every battle needs to be fought (on their dime).
It is up to us to educate our clients that just because we don’t bark all of the time does not mean that we have less bite or that we’re any less zealous in representing them. Once clients realize this fact, they will begin to appreciate a more civil approach.
Image credit: Parenting4tomorrow