I commonly hear people say, “I want an aggressive lawyer.” Prospective clients ask, “Will you fight for me?”, as if they want a lawyer who will verbally duke it out in court. Thanks to the entertainment industry, we believe the boisterous and demanding lawyer is the ideal, or even a true representation of the profession. People seek out the Al Pacino type of lawyer who will energetically proclaim in court, “You‘re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”[i]
I am always amazed that certain lawyers continue to obtain clients despite their extremely aggressive personalities. This is the type of lawyer who will fight with any and every one. Clients appear to love the lawyer who gets in the judge’s face; the one who will fight with opposing counsel and call their ex names in nasty divorce battles. People want a personal injury lawyer who claims the case is worth millions and who acts insulted when they are offered anything less. Others want to feel as though they have hired a fighter, a lawyer who will be belligerent at all stages of the case. They think the more their lawyer fights, argues, and screams, the better the representation. This is simply not the case.
I belong to a profession where a portion of the population assumes that being argumentative and mean is an advantage. Contrary to most other vocations, these character traits are oddly valued in the law. This is one of the biggest public misconceptions about lawyers and oftentimes causes clients to hire the very people who will hurt their case. Aggressiveness can be advantageous in some circumstances, in others it’s disastrous. Depending on the case and the circumstances involved, the client must to be careful with the lawyer who goes for the throat and presents himself as a “shark.”
If a lawyer appears to be a shark, you should question the effectiveness of his litigation skill. This type of lawyer practices an expensive and destructive form of law, which is usually not in their client’s best interest. If the sole purpose of your litigation strategy is to upset the other side, then this is the breed of lawyer for you. However, if your goal is to do the best you can, as efficiently as possible, then I advise you to stay away from the lawyer who is proud that he picks a good fight.
You should hire a lawyer who will diligently represent your case, who will strongly advocate for your cause, but who will also have a professional relationship with his opponent. I have settled many cases for large amounts of money due to my good relationship with the opposing counsel. I allow the opposing lawyer to speak to me honestly, I return their phone calls, and I only raise issues in court that are relevant to the case. The lawyers in my firm try to keep a positive relationship going with the other side to promote open dialog. We endeavor to avoid alienating the other side, because once that happens, any conversation with them becomes difficult, especially the ones about money. We never want the opposing counsel to take pleasure in extending a case or in trying to hurt our client.
If you are hiring a vicious or combative lawyer, you are not doing yourself, your case, or your wallet any favors. Sharks usually don’t help anyone efficiently or effectively resolve their cases. There are talented, determined lawyers out there, but they are not the type to brag about their technique or prey on the weak. These lawyers don’t act like a shark in or out of the courtroom and their opponents respect them. This is the type of lawyer you want representing you; this is the person you want on your side.