There is a misconception both within the legal industry and about the legal industry that opposing counsel must be nasty to each other. However, it’s been my experience that not only does an adversarial relationship not have to be an unpleasant relationship, but it’s better for everyone involved when it is not. Indeed, in cases where I’ve had a positive working relationship with opposing counsel I’ve found that cases are more likely to reach early settlement, cases are less stressful, and motion practice becomes less frequent.
When you are rude, insulting, or vitriolic towards another attorney, that attorney is far less likely to want to work with you towards an amicable settlement, to avoid unnecessary motion practice, or to grant extensions. Instead, by building a hostile relationship between yourself and opposing counsel, you’ve only encouraged them to dig in their heels not just so they can get a good outcome for their client, but also because they want to make life difficult for you. Similarly, hostility towards opposing counsel encourages gamesmanship and a reluctance to compromise.
In my own experience, it’s been in my clients best interest when I’ve been able to build a positive, friendly working relationship with opposing counsel. In one particular circumstance, opposing counsel and I discovered a number of shared interests including similar tastes in music. Our practice area being rather small, we found ourselves working on opposite sides of numerous cases. When we’d meet before settlement conferences, voir dire, hearings, and other occasions, we’d often discuss our new favorite music discoveries before talking business. The congenial relationship we’d developed meant that we virtually never engaged in motion practice and cases often settled relatively quickly. When disputes did arise, I knew they could still be worked out amicably. These cases were less stressful to handle for me personally and they almost universally cost my client less money than similar cases opposing other attorneys.
This is not to say that you need to be a pushover. Obviously, no matter what you always need to stand up for your client and yourself. But, at the same time, you should always treat opposing counsel with both respect and civility. Don’t be afraid to discuss things unrelated to the case you’re working on. When opposing counsel fails to treat you with the same professional courtesy, don’t let them shake you off your game. Instead, stand up for yourself while remaining calm, polite, and professional. In the end, a positive working relationship with opposing counsel will mean that you’ll avoid unnecessary stress for you and your client. You’ll also save your client money by avoiding gamesmanship and comeuppance while encouraging compromise and settlement.
Despite our best efforts, it’s been my experience that nearly every attorney has had a bad experience with opposing counsel. Share your story with us in the comments and let us know how it was ultimately resolved.