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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
Attorney • (800) 397-4910

Don’t Be A Jerk

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Jerk Store

Don’t be a jerk.

Seems like a pretty simple request.  Seems like a rule that sets the bar pretty low.

I’ll admit there have been times where I’ve failed the test.  I’m certain there will be times when I fail the test in the future.  My guess is there are times when we all have been a jerk.  Maybe it was a bad day.  Maybe we didn’t get enough sleep.

But despite these failures, it’s important to strive for civility.

It’s called the Golden Rule for a reason.

The New York Times reported in June that simply being a jerk can have serious negative effects on business, wealth, and health.  Stressors due to incivility – either acting as a jerk or responding to a jerk – can lead to serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer, and ulcers.  Jerks also rob businesses of productivity.  Employees who have been belittled by an overbearing boss can lose more than half of their productivity on a given task.  Workplace incivility cause employees to contribute less and lose conviction.

Workplace incivility has similar effects on customers.  Would you want to order pizza or buy a car or buy anything from a jerk?

Incivility in a medical setting can have disastrous consequences.

According to a survey of more than 4,500 doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, 71 percent tied disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct, to medical errors, and 27 percent tied such behavior to patient deaths.

No Time to Be Nice at Work [Christine Porath at New York Times]

But what about lawyers?

The fact is that sometimes clients want their lawyer to be a jerk.  That shouldn’t be a good enough reason to become the jerk.  What your client wants and what is in your client’s best interests are not always one in the same.  The client may want a “take-no-prisoners” jerk, but that kind of tactic might not get the case resolved.

But sometimes it will.  Sometimes the needs of the client or the positioning of the case require you to be a jerk.

The point, though, is that those times should be the exception; not the rule.

The thing is, being a jerk all the time doesn’t make you a jerk, it makes you an asshole. It’s just not necessary. All attorneys should lead with civility and courtesy when initially interacting with opposing counsel. And they should strive to maintain that civility as best they can. But ultimately, the practice of law is not about you or your feelings. The practice of law is about what’s best for your client. And there will be times where what is best for your client is to be the biggest jerk possible to people on the other side of a case or deal from you. That’s just going to happen sometimes. But that doesn’t mean you should let those situations define who you are or the way you conduct your practice.

It’s Okay For Lawyers To Be Jerks (Sometimes) [Keith Lee at Above The Law]

There was quite a bit of discussion on this topic back in February (sorry gang… late getting to this party).

Jeena Cho wrote Stop Training Lawyers to Be Jerks.

Keith Lee responded that  It’s Okay for Lawyers To Be Jerks (Sometimes).

Scott Greenfield responded that what is important is that the client’s interests are put ahead of those of the lawyer and, “[w]hether jerk or not, know what you’re doing and do so for a reason.”

Mark Bennet wrote that Greenfield Takes a Hill He Can’t Hold because “not being a jerk is intrinsically better than being a jerk.”

Finally, Greenfield responded in an update as to the meaning of “jerk”.  And I think the definition of the term is an important discussion.

Does advocating for your client make you a “jerk”?  No.  Does fiercely advocating for your client make you a “jerk”?  No.  Both simply make you a lawyer.

Whether one is a jerk or not has as much to do with context (or attitude or intention) as the conduct of the tactic.  We can disagree without being disagreeable.  We can advocate without being obnoxious.  We be aggressive without being abominable.

Keeping a good, working professional relationship with the adversary’s counsel, while still doing what you are retained to do, is often a tough thing. Tempers may flair if you aren’t careful in even the most routine deposition.

This doesn’t mean that the lawyer stops short of arguing his heart out just to be nice, only that there is an art to disagreeing without being disagreeable.

First Rule of Lawyering (Don’t Be Attila the Hun) [Eric Turkewitz at New York Personal Injury Law Blog]

Be an advocate.  Be aggressive.  Win your case.  Just don’t be a jerk.

© Copyright 2015 Brett A. Emison

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