Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Shut up, old man"

Today, I found out, is International Be Kind to Lawyers Day.

Yesterday was not.

I was in court yesterday morning on a case I should have won three years ago, but did not.

Success, it is said, has many fathers; failure is an orphan. That's not entirely true.

The first part -- success has many fathers -- is true. Brilliant as we all sometimes think ourselves to be, none of us succeeds in this life entirely on our own. The best athlete has had lots of coaches. And trainers. And at least one parent or parent-figure who drove the budding superstar to practices and games when he or she was just starting out. The doctor who discovers a miracle cure has had lots of teachers, lots of colleagues who listened attentively, an insight provided (maybe by pure chance) by a spouse or another relative. Yes, the movie goddess is beautiful, but there were others who had to give her the chance to succeed or recognize her talent.

But failure is not an orphan.

Oh, failure is the last kid to be chosen for pick-up basketball. Failure is the nerdy guy no one wants to be around. But the buck has to stop somewhere. And in this case I appeared on yesterday, it stops with me. The trial judge made the wrong decision, yes, but I must have been insufficiently persuasive. I should have worried less about the bill and more about winning in the Appellate Court. I didn't win there either.

And now my client is suffering for it. I don't think it any consolation for my client that I am suffering too.

And while you sometimes lose a close case to a respected opponent, the ones that really hurt are when you lose to a real jerk. In this case -- without getting into any identifying details -- it is the opposing client who is the real jerk.

I've represented real jerks before. Unless a lawyer is so financially independent that he or she can discriminate freely, every lawyer has had this experience. There are a couple of tricks for dealing with rotten clients. One trick, which I've more or less mastered, is to retain control of the case. The bum of a client isn't going to approve of anything you do anyway, so you might as well do what is right and appropriate and not get tainted by your association with the rat. The other trick, which I've not mastered at all, is get as much of your money as possible up front. Because the scummy client is never going to pay you in full.

The attorney currently representing the rotten client in this case (he's run through several so far) hasn't mastered even the first rule. He's letting his client tell him how to handle the case. It will get him in trouble, eventually; at least I sincerely hope so. Of course, I may stroke out before that happens. It was outrageous what counsel said in the written submission he gave to the judge before yesterday and what he said in defense of it in the courtroom yesterday morning was equally so. But the judge, having only read what my opponent provided, regarded me with a jaundiced eye.

But I get ahead of my story.

Before the case was called -- before the judge came out -- opposing counsel introduced himself to me. He was sitting in front of me. He turned around in the swivel chair at counsel table to face me (I'd been sitting behind him) pretending to be friendly. I can pretend lots of things -- what blogger doesn't? -- but I couldn't pretend to return the pretend bonhomie. Indeed, I was radiating hostility. I had, as the saying goes, my "war face" on.

Nevertheless, counsel tried to engage me in conversation about the case. Eventually, I obliged him. I began to tell him what I thought. This lasted about 30 seconds or so.

Abruptly, though, counsel said, "Shut up, old man. I am not afraid of you." He turned around in his swivel chair facing the front of the courtroom.

Yesterday was definitely not Be Kind to Lawyers Day. Tomorrow won't be either.


Dave said...

I've not had that said to me; but, didn't he actually tell you that he is, at least a tiny bit, just a little bit afraid of something?

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

oh buggers! what a dork!

smiles, bee

Lawfrog said...

It is my general belief that if someone has to make something clear such as "I'm not afraid of you" then, in fact, they are terrified. Opposing counsel will get his comeuppance many times over in the coming years. Anyone who is that much of a jerk will not go unpunished. Small comfort perhaps, but comforting nonetheless.