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Bullies in the Courtroom. Not welcome and not effective.

While in court the other day, I heard an attorney (who shall remain nameless) start arguing with just about everybody in the room. He argued with the prosecutor. He argued with the bailiff. He argued with the judge. He probably then went off and argued with his client. This attorney also has a reputation in the legal community for being very difficult to deal with, and even the mention of his name can cause attorneys and judges to roll their eyes or groan.

The sad thing is that I heard a voice in the back of the courtroom "I wish my lawyer was that tough."

Here is the thing: the entire practice of law is based on the concept that people can have civilized disagreements and that the justice system will sort those disagreements out. It is what separates our system of justice from nations where corruption and force determine who will be victorious in disputes.

The justice system itself is founded on attorneys treating one another with civility and respect. You cannot listed to what an opposing attorney is saying (or even arguing) while arguing and shouting. You cannot also gain cooperation or resolve issues unless you are willing to have polite, reasoned conversations about the issues.

You can have disagreements with opposing counsel, and you can vigorously fight for your clients, but it must be done so in a respectful manner. You have to treat opposing counsel, their clients, judges and court staff with respect. It shows not only a level of respect for the participants in a legal case, but also shows a level of professionalism.

In my legal career -- as a prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General and attorney in private practice -- I can only think of a handful of attorneys who I have dealt with who are or have been so uncivil to qualify as unprofessional. These are the attorneys, like the one mentioned above, whose names and conduct are unwelcome in courtrooms -- and whose clients, usually unknowingly, suffer and pay the costs of their bullheadedness.

The clients may pay more in legal fees because the attorney is unwilling to treat with opposing counsel and work through difficulties. They may also have to pay more in hourly bills because relatively simple issues (i.e. discovery) may take longer when the attorneys cannot have an intelligent discussion. The clients may also have a worse long term result because a case that may have been able to be settled will be forced to trial. In the context of criminal cases, attorneys who treat prosecutors with little or no respect, or who want to be argumentative about every issue, are less likely to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a plea deal or sentencing recommendation.

My theory is to treat everyone in the courtroom with respect and dignity, as well as to make sure that disagreements remain civil. This theory has resulted in my clients getting better results than clients who hire attorneys who believe in 'litigation through bullying.' At times, the approach of acting civil instead of being a bully can be the difference between a client going home at the end of the case versus the client heading to a state prison.

The power of persuasion is far superior to the power of screaming vocal cords -- and smart attorneys realize that you can be both tough and civil when handling cases.

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