Over the five years that I worked a;most exclusively in Solano County, I got to know the other lawyers in that county quite well. I knew who was a pushover, who was sharp as a tack, who would cave right before trial, who was sneaky, who I could trust, and who would mean the case would cost double or triple what I expected. Often, my clients would ask about the other lawyer, and I would share what I knew.
Often, too, my clients would express dismay, frustration and sometimes even anger that I knew and was friendly with the other lawyer. They thought it would make me “softer” and not fight as hard for them. They thought my friendship came “above” my responsibilities to them as a client. It’s unfortunate that I was unable to convince them of how very wrong they were. I am not the only one who has experienced this, and this article describes well what I am explaining here.
First, they never understood that I take my job and my responsibility to vigorously advocate for my clients very seriously. Regardless of who is opposing me, I am going to fight for my client in the same way. I operate by acting in my client’s best interests, and we discuss our strategy before every case. I will be more cautious when working with someone I can’t trust, but my behavior does not change markedly from case to case and client to client. Obviously, when pushed I will push back and I can – and will – get down in the trenches and fight when appropriate. But in many cases this is not necessary and serves only to escalate the cost of the case.
Second, by knowing my opposing counsel, I know what to expect from them, good or bad. When it’s a friend of mine, I can expect that they won’t blindside me or screw me over. That helps my client, helps the case, and keeps costs down.
Similarly, my friends trust me as well, so they are more likely to work more easily with me and, as a consequence, work with their client to make the case more reasonable. In cases with lawyers I am friendly with, there’s more of an attitude of “trust but verify” – we can agree on things in principle, while proof is in process. With other lawyers, we may need to more through expensive discovery before we can even sit down to start to discuss the issues. While it may seem that time cools the fires of anger, resentment and vengefulness, it is often the opposite. The longer the case drags on, the harder it can be to settle.
So, which would you prefer? I would want an attorney who knew my opposing counsel well, and was friendly with them.