Life seems to be made up of many rules, written and unwritten. Most are a matter of common sense, like just being nice to people you meet and deal with. It sounds so obvious you may be asking yourself why I would spend time even mentioning it. Despite being obvious, I’ll bet someone just came to mind who you dealt with recently and the dealings were unpleasant because the other person just wasn’t nice.
I know who that person is for me. It was an opposing attorney on a litigation matter. I know this can go with the territory, but most litigators actually are good to deal with and range from professional to really nice. It’s what makes the people who aren’t nice stand out. I have been known to say that it seems easier to remember nasty or obnoxious opposing attorneys more than those who are nice.
In my case, the issue being discussed seemed pretty obvious to me. It was procedural, dictated by rules, and is something that has to be done in every lawsuit. Even though it seems like that should make it an easy matter to deal with, it resulted in opposing counsel raising his voice with me and arguing with me despite me not arguing back. It also caused multiple conversations and emails on what shouldn’t have been a big deal. This wasted my time and increased the fees incurred by both of our clients. Importantly, it didn’t advance any agenda he may have had or put his client in a better position legally.
In a different context, someone I have known for years and who always has been exceedingly nice to me, is not to everyone. An example is that this person is very nice to people who he thinks can help him in some way or are “on his level.” This is manifested by him not always treating those he views as below him with courtesy or respect. I think it is so ingrained he really doesn’t know how he comes across and would be shocked if someone told him about his behavior.
On the other hand, out of law school I worked for a gentleman named Jim Marlar. He later became a federal judge and is just a really nice guy. When I was still in law school and serving as a law clerk for his firm, he took me to the federal courthouse for the first time. He introduced me to not only federal judges, but also to the court librarian and to courthouse janitors. Really. He treated all of them the same, knew their names, about them and had a real connection forged by years of simply being nice and treating people with respect. It was a great lesson I have never forgotten.
I know it can be easier said than done to be nice to everyone. It is even harder when they are not being nice to you. With the attorney I mentioned, I do my best not to raise my voice, get sucked into an unnecessary argument and remain professional. It hasn’t changed his behavior, but maybe if I continue to do the same he will realize his rudeness and posturing doesn’t help him and our dealings will be better. At least I am trying to be nice and not make the situation worse.
The next time someone is not nice to you or you encounter someone you don’t necessarily want to engage with, just be nice because it may help, and certainly won’t harm your reputation like sinking to their level or ignoring someone. It’s your reputation. What do you want it to be?
As always, this post and others can be found on my blog, BusinessLawGuy'sBlog .
About the author: Neal Bookspan is a partner at the Phoenix, Arizona law firm of Jaburg Wilk . He assists clients with business issues, commercial litigation, workouts and bankruptcy litigation. Neal can be reached at 602.248.1000