There I was, sitting with my client along with his mother, the victim in the case, and several witnesses. My client agreed to testify against an alleged co-conspirator, and we were all waiting for the prosecutor to arrive. When he finally showed up the meeting went without a hitch. As we wrapped up, I had this encounter:
Prosecutor: So, Josh, when did you graduate law school?
Prosecutor: So you’re what, 28?
Me: There abouts.
Prosecutor: Wow. I’ve got underwear older than you.
If I could raise one eyebrow (a talent I desperately wish I had) I would have. Instead, I just responded “You need to go shopping more often.”
One of the benefits of being a former fat person is that I have extremely thick skin. Comments like these don’t really get to me. I also understand that a little hazing from a senior lawyer isn’t the worst thing in the world. But when comments like these are made in front of a group, including clients, they can be frustrating. So, as a young lawyer, how does one deal with more senior members of the bar?
In an article for Litigation News Stephanie McCoy Loquvam discusses tips for young lawyers dealing with “difficult and more senior opposing counsel.” Her first tip is about preparation:
Be as prepared as you think you need to be, and be twice as prepared as that. The panel [at a program on the same subject] noted that more senior lawyers may try to trip you up, even if you are doing things right. If there are disputed issues that keep coming up in the case, have a prepared answer. Preparation keeps you from getting intimidated or overwhelmed and permits you to maintain focus.
Moreover, the preparation will simply make you look good. If you’re arguing in front of a judge and know all the answers to all the questions, you’ll look much better than the attorney making underhand remarks or showing an unprofessional attitude.
I’m Rubber and You’re Glue
Like any kind of rude comment, I find it best to let comments made by more senior attorneys just slide off of me. My general policy is that I can’t be in control of the unethical or unprofessional behavior of more senior lawyers. So I just don’t let it bother me.
This prevents all kinds of issues. If you get angry, you’re no longer in control of the situation, and you end up being the one making some kind of unprofessional remark. In a similar vein, Loquvam notes that young lawyers shouldn’t be baited by the comments or demeanor of senior attorneys.
Kill Them with Kindness
“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” according to every grandmother ever. I’m assuming the only reason to catch flies is to destroy them. But I digress. I’ve found that some senior attorneys are just hostile to new lawyers. It’s just their nature. My strategy with these people is to be as nice as possible. Instead of being rude right back, I crank it up a notch.
It’s important to toe the line between being nice and kissing up to the attorney. The former can win you points, but the latter will hurt your reputation. Sometimes it is difficult to be very nice to someone when they’re cutting you to pieces in court. But everyone is much nicer over a glass of bourbon (or in my case, a Captain and Diet.)