Sometimes it is hard for clients to understand when I joke with or make small talk with opposing counsel. Clients don’t really want to be in court anyway, and they are usually very stressed just to be there. Something very important to them is in the process of being settled or litigated, and they may be filled with dread. The last thing they want to do is laugh or joke, and often they see their lawyer doing just that, and often with the hated opposing counsel.
First of all, it seems to be pretty universal that since clients are in a battle with a hated enemy – the person on the other side of their case- they expect me to hate the opposing party too. However, it is important that I do not adopt my client’s attitude towards their adversary. If I did, it would rob me of my ability to make an independent analysis of the case. This is what they trained us to do in law school. If we can’t maintain our independence and independent thought about a case, we are of little value to our client.
In order to serve my clients’ actual best interests, I can’t get “invested” in their views of their case. I have to coldly analyze it, coldly analyze the opposing party’s case, and make a learned prediction of the likely range of outcomes. This gives me the ability of determine a range of settlement options and make recommendations to my client which are reasonable, given the situation and set of facts which look provable to me. There are many factors to analyze, including my client’s ability to testify, negative factors which may affect the case, the skill of opposing counsel, and what I know about a judge’s predilections from past experience. This is why I get paid the “big bucks.” My analysis pulls no punches and takes no prisoners. I have to look at everything with a cold, independent eye. Would you prefer a lawyer who gives you an honest analysis of your chances or one who tells you what you want to hear? If you choose the latter, might as well stop reading this article.
In most jurisdictions, there is a relatively small circle of attorneys who are experienced in a particular area of law. Pennsylvania does not allow lawyers to advertise “specialties” in law; we are all general practitioners in the eyes of the PA Supreme Court. However, most lawyers, especially those in or near larger urban areas, have developed an area of concentration within the law. Hopefully if your case is in such an urban area, you have been referred to a lawyer who mainly practices in the area of law your case relates to. In any case, these lawyers get to know each other pretty well. We belong to the same organizations, attend court on a regular basis, and attend meetings (and parties) which pretty much this same group of lawyers also do.
We have usually developed healthy professional relationships with these lawyers we see on a regular basis. We may know about their family, health issues, and other information. For the most part, they are just like us, struggling to maintain their professional independence while trying to advance their client’s interests, observing the rules of ethics which govern our profession, and making a living. When you consider this, wouldn’t it be odd if we didn’t act cordially to one another? It’s true that during court appearances, some attorneys act like bullies or make disparaging remarks about the opposing party or their case, but generally this is just part of the “persona” that they adopt in public. Sometimes they do it to impress their clients who are nearby and don’t understand that lawyers really don’t hate each other, or that they don’t really hate the opposing party. (Unfortunately, sometimes lawyers have lost their independence from a case, but that’s another story.)
So as a client you should feel good if your lawyer banters with opposing counsel in the hallway or outside of court; it is a good sign that their independence is intact, and that they are not uptight or worried about your case. Smile and trust your lawyer!