The Price of Scorched Earth
JW Way Fundamental #16: Don't Be a Jerk
"Maintain professionalism at all times. Keep emotions under control. Advocating forcefully for the intrests of our clients does not require bullying, condescension, foul language, or temper tantrums. This applies to co-workers, opposing counsel, and vendors. Always be a mensch. "
We all know a jerk or two in our professional and perhaps personal lives. Despite the efforts of society and the Arizona State Bar, the jerks of the world persist. The dictionary defines “jerk” as “an annoyingly stupid or foolish person.” In the practice of law, however, the jerk is often as smart as, or even smarter than, you with a deliberate strategy of being as annoying as possible. Highly intelligent “smart jerks” are capable of causing far more damage in our profession than anyone else.
You may have dealt with an attorney whose jerkiness is well-known. One who employs scorched earth, take-no-prisoners approach to the practice of law. Judges and opposing counsel dislike them. Some clients, however, select a jerk to represent them for that very reason. They want a bull dog litigator who is willing to win at all costs.
So how may that go? It depends on who you ask.
From the client’s standpoint, there may be an enormous bill to pay to achieve the end result, good or bad. From opposing counsel’s standpoint, this lawyer is not well respected and may be ridiculed for bullying tactics. Frequently they are given no leniency, extensions or favors by other attorneys because they know it will not be reciprocated. From the court’s standpoint, they may be given even less leeway if they have previously appeared before the judge.
There are still plenty of jerks in our profession, although their numbers have decreased over the years due to increased professional standards, more cost-conscious clients, and the collective ire of judges who refuse to put up with bad behavior.
At our firm, we are not jerks, not because we do not fight hard for our clients, we do, but because we do not delude our clients about the merits of their case and what it will cost to resolve their case in or out of court. We are not jerks, not because we do not get what we want from opposing counsel, but because we do not bully them to get it. We are not jerks, not because we do not make compelling and persuasive arguments on our client’s behalf in court, but because we do not make frivolous, unsupported arguments and do not try to deceive the court on our client’s behalf.
We fight hard for our clients in a way that is efficient, professional and in our clients’ best interest. In doing so, we achieve results for our clients, our profession, and ourselves.