Dealing with the Bully at the Other Table

Professionals are supposed to act professionally, but that’s not always the case. Some attorneys have very aggressive personalities and have used that to try (and sometimes succeed) to further their legal careers. Unfortunately, some of the bullies who strutted through high school  hallways passed the bar exam. One of them represents the opposing party. If the other attorney is trying to bully you what should you do?

If you want to fight fire with fire and respond with anger or emotion, take a time out and create some space, suggests an article by Nancy Pritikin in The Recorder. This can mean physically as in stepping away or going into another room or just taking a deep breath. Since everything happening during litigation is “on the record” lashing back won’t help your client.

You can also open up some space by not allowing the bully to set the tone. Don’t lower yourself to his or her level. Stand your ground and don’t allow yourself to be controlled or manipulated, none of which requires shouting or rude behavior on your part.

Take advantage of the record and document the attorney’s bullying and inappropriate behavior if it’s outside the courtroom. Put it on the official record or in writing.

  • Behavior should be recorded and any evidence, such as a deposition transcript, deposition video, or any notes, can be used.
  • Make a written demand that the attorney stop the inappropriate conduct.
  • Write in clear, unemotional, objective terms. The writing, though addressed to opposing counsel, is for a judge to read, so write it accordingly.

If you make a mistake, own up to it. A smart bully may exploit mistakes so you will focus on covering up mistakes instead of advancing your client’s case. Take ownership of the situation and find better ways to address it which will help your client legally and you emotionally.

Self-confidence helps when dealing with the bully lawyer but it doesn’t come naturally to all of us. For most of us it comes with time, experience and preparation. Be prepared for each situation and consider ahead of time how you will address issues when they develop. If something unexpected comes up, take a break and, if necessary, call someone who can suggest a solution.

Because litigation is a long process you need to be flexible along the way and adjust as facts, witnesses and circumstances change and evolve. Insulting an opponent won’t help your client if the case gets to a point where the best resolution is a settlement.

By taking “the high road” your chances of getting a court or a jury to listen to your client’s story and provide relief in his or her favor depends greatly on how your personal integrity is perceived.

  • You need to behave and communicate in a way that shows that you are the adult in the room.
  • You did all you could to set the record straight and sought appropriate behavior from the other side.

Too many lawyers use their duty to zealously advocate on their client’s behalf as justifying a “scorched earth” approach that may end up burning their own clients and their reputation. The best advice is what you shouldn’t do: try to out-bully the bully.