Recently, my opposing counsel in a case refused to continue a hearing that was scheduled to occur in the middle of my summer vacation. Counsel had set the hearing unilaterally within just a couple of weeks of the filing of his motion. So I was flabbergasted by his refusal to reschedule it. After all, I simply asked that the hearing be delayed a couple of weeks, and this was not a case that had been pending or delayed for an extended period of time. Because of counsel’s refusal and my client’s desire to get the matter resolved, I spent the better part of my vacation working on a settlement; the negotiations of which were unnecessarily contentious, because of his unprofessionalism.
I do not believe that to be effective for my client I need to make my opposing counsel’s life difficult. To the contrary, doing so usually has a negative impact on clients’ interests and their wallets. This particular lawyer and others I’ve recently encountered apparently disagree. But, he gained absolutely no tactical or other advantage by refusing my request for a simple accommodation.
Rather than focus on the negative though, I will tell you how I usually approach an opposing counsel relationship. First, I think it is important to start off on a good foot. Even boxers shake hands before they pummel each other. So, when I am first retained or when my opposing counsel first appears, I usually reach out to them, by phone, to introduce myself, tell them my approach, and offer to extend mutual courtesies. The hope, of course, is to get the relationship started down a path of professionalism and courtesy. That does not always work, but I believe it to be a worthwhile effort nonetheless. In addition, I routinely grant extensions or continuances unless my client refuses for a good reason or the opponent is simply delaying. And unless counsel is abusing my courtesies, I will work with them to schedule hearings and depositions when convenient for us both. Finally, I try to avoid any personal attacks on counsel, whether orally or written.
While the incident described above is not the norm, I have seen an increase recently in unprofessional and discourteous behavior among counsel. Any number of factors could be contributing to this uptick – economic conditions, increased competition for a smaller pool of work, lack of mentoring or proper education on the subject. Regardless, we should all remember our oath for admission to the Bar. Most states have something about professionalism. Florida’s states the following: “To opposing parties and their counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications.”
So, I send that same message: To my opposing counsel, I pledge fairness, integrity, and civility, not only in court, but also in all written and oral communications. If we just follow that simple rule, I suspect all of our lives will be made easier and our clients will be happier. And to that opposing counsel who ruined my vacation, I remind you that the world is round…