Professional Courtesy

I have a temper.

That might surprise people who know me casually, like my professional acquaintances. I work hard to keep it in check. Over the past 17 years as an employment litigator (representing companies), I’ve gotten better at controlling my anger. But it hasn’t always been easy.

Because lawyers can be pretty adept at pissing people off.

In fact, I know many people who left litigation — even left practicing law altogether — primarily because they were sick of dealing with obnoxious opposing lawyers. And I’m not talking about thin-skinned, confrontation-avoiding types. I’m talking about solid, talented litigators who just stopped finding it fun to fight with douchebags all the time.

And this is more of an issue for newer small-firm lawyers, who are much more likely to deal with opposing counsel early in their careers than their Biglaw counterparts. (Maybe someone else here can write a post on dealing with obnoxious document reviews.)

So to help you deal with the toolbags that all litigators face from time to time, here are five tips that I’ve picked up along the way….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Small Firms, Big Lawyers, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

About ten years ago, my former law partner and I were involved in a noncompete case against the fourteenth-largest firm in the country. (It’s since slipped about forty spots. As you’ll see, payback’s a bitch.) The ginormous firm hit us with an emergency motion for injunctive relief, and gave us only two days before the hearing to respond. At the time, there were just two of us in our firm, and we were busy with a couple other matters as well. So we called up the lawyer on the other side, explained our situation, and asked him to indulge us with a short extension.

He replied, “No, I’m a douche. You can’t have an extension. See you in court.” It’s possible that I’m misremembering some of the actual words, but my recollection of the meaning is spot on. So my partner and I cleared the decks of our other work, buckled down, pulled an all-nighter, and got our opposition brief done in time for the hearing. Oh, and won.

The following week, the tables turned. We filed a motion to get the case dismissed for forum non conveniens, marking the one time in my career that I actually used something I learned in law school. We filed and served our brief and got a hearing scheduled for four days later. Then our opposing counsel called and — wait for it — asked us for an extension.

What do you think my partner told him?

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