Dealing with a Difficult Lawyer on the Other Side
A case with a difficult lawyer on the other side rates somewhere between a root canal and a rectal exam in the scheme of unpleasant things in life.
The simple fact of the matter is that you have to be a bit of an ass at times to be an effective lawyer. Whether that involves turning down clients, standing up to clients, judges and other lawyers, or some other facet of law school or the practice of law, a lawyer is required to be (or at least will be perceived by some to be) an ass at times.
However, some attorneys have taken this to a whole new level. Years ago we referred to them as Rambo lawyers. Those are the ones with whom nothing is easy.
It is even worse if you are pro se or pro per. Not only are they hard to deal with but they don't respect you and don't mind showing it.
So what do you do?
Here's a list of rules to remember.
- Never let your emotions take control. The Rambo lawyer will do their best to make you mad because when you're mad you make mistakes. You can act mad, you just can't be mad.
- Do everything in writing and send everything by US Mail and in a way that gives you a signature showing they received it. If money is an issue then you can send it where you get a delivery confirmation even if you don't get a receipt but that is definitely not the preferred method.
- Never be late on anything. These kind of lawyers thrive on causing the other side trouble and generating additional fees for themselves.
- Always do discovery but especially when you're dealing with this type of lawyer. You must be able to tie them down and make sure you know what their evidence is and who they are going to call as witnesses. Also:
- In anything they send you, look for "wiggle room" in what they say and particularly in their answers to discovery. If they give an answer that is too general and you don't catch it then it is shame on you when they pop up with new evidence during the trial. If you haven't done a lot of discovery consider picking up our Guerrilla Guide to Written Discovery so you understand everything the principles involved and how discovery can be used for you or against you and how improper use can cost you your case.
- Pick your battles. The lawyer is getting paid a lot of money for every hour they argue with you, work on the case, or go to court. You are not going to intimidate them by threatening to take it to the judge so don't bother.
- Always be patient and think things through. Make sure you understand what you are doing and what may happen. You need to do this anyway but in a case involving a less than reputable lawyer on the other side it is of extreme importance. When you are thinking things through, each time you come to a part where something can happen examine every alternative, don't assume you know what is going to happen. Assume that the judge is going to ignore the law, the lawyer is going to lie, the witnesses are going to change their story, etc. and then consider what you will do in response.
- Don't take the bait. You can tell when they're trying to draw you into an argument or trap so ignore it. If they say something offensive, be silent. Nothing is as infuriating as trying to insult someone or get them to argue and they won't play.
- Always be polite. 'Nuff said about that.
- Consider recording any calls between you and the lawyer. Although you should do everything in writing, you may get a call from them. It is perfectly legal to record the call if you both agree it is going to be recorded. In some states it is okay to record it even without their permission (these are known as one party consent states and you can find a list at this site), but if you are going to record without permission you need to be 100% sure it is legal in your state. However, as we mentioned above and repeated in this point, do everything in writing if you are dealing with a difficult lawyer.
- Always, always, always be prepared. For every hour in court a good lawyer spend ten hours outside of court preparing. Someone who is representing themselves in court pro se needs to double or triple that.
- Know the law. You have to thoroughly understand the rules of civil procedure for your court, any local rules, the rules of evidence for your court (a Guerrilla Guide to Evidence is coming soon) and the law that pertains to your case. If you don't thoroughly understand legal research we would suggest you pick up the Guerrilla Guide to Legal Research and know the law!
Will you avoid all problems by following these rules? Of course not, but you will be better off and better prepared to handle one of the most unpleasant experience it is possible to have in a professional setting.