POST #9, MAY 14, 2016: I FORGOT A VERY IMPORTANT LESSON
I have undertaken the representation of a friend of mine in a matter which, obviously, I cannot discuss here.
Taking on representation of friends and family is fraught with peril, because you tend to become more personally involved in their matter, and therein lies the trouble: the more personally involved you become in a case, the less likely you can handle it well.
This is why many people come up to me and wonder why attorneys seem to, according to them, “get off in a corner and whisper” when they are trying a case against each other. This is also why I try to stay courteous to my opponent (opposing attorney) of the day, even to the point where, if he or she will not speak with me, I may make a little joke in front of their client, such as, “It’s okay to talk to me today, I won’t hit you.” This also leads people to, rather incredibly, tell me, “My previous lawyer was bought off.” In 31 years of practice, I have NEVER heard of this, believe me.
(There was one attorney here in town, the late Jack Burkhard, who would NEVER talk to you the day of trial. He would socialize with you before or after, but treat you as if you were his mortal, personal enemy when you got into a trial. Of course, you know he was the butt of a lot of my father’s jokes! But I digress, so let’s get back to what happened yesterday).
On the other side yesterday was Sandy Phillips from Johnson City, a smart, tough advocate, and a good friend of mine. We have tried matters against each other, and have settled matters against each other, but not too many, for if you knew Sandy, she fights for her clients like a hungry female pit bull on steroids fights to protect her pups.
In any event, things got hot under the collar, and we ended up in a real yelling, eyeball-to-eyeball, finger-pointing argument with each other pre-trial. It was so bad that I had to step inside Judge Bailey’s office for 15 minutes, have a cup of coffee, and chill.
Well, we had a short hearing, which went about as was–and, frankly, should have been–expected. I apologized to Sandy and her client before the trial, and also after the trial, and she said all was forgiven, and–and this is a direct quote from her–she says she still loves me. I’m glad I didn’t make a permanent enemy of a trusted colleague.
The point in all this is as follows: We are your advocates, but we are not supposed to be your bosom buddies. When we lose our objectivity as attorneys, as I did yesterday, we cannot see either the problems we may have with our case, or the potential ways to resolve the problems, short of a trial in front of a judge who will make a decision that, usually, no one likes. When we lose our objectivity, we don’t do as well for you as we should, and when we lose our cool, we lose your case.
So, next time you have a court date and you see your lawyer and the opposing attorney talking and laughing, they are not getting together to sell you out. Quite the contrary: they are doing their jobs as advocates.