Courtesy in the Courtroom: Does Your Attorney Really Have To Be Mean To Win?

We have all heard the saying that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, but does that notion hold true in the world of claim negotiation and litigation? In my humble opinion, it does—, especially in our ever-shrinking world. If you have a fairly focused practice like I do, it is likely that you will encounter the same adjusters and attorneys time and time again. If you attempt to further your client’s position by bullying the other side or using underhanded or dishonest tactics, that reputation will likely follow you and impede your ability to resolve your client’s claim. I, for one, make a point to treat adjusters and opposing counsel with respect—even if they do not return the courtesy. I do this not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because I truly believe a client suffers when his attorney does not at least attempt to “play nice” with the opposing party. Moreover, perhaps my reputation as an amicable negotiator will actually work in my client’s favor sometime later down the line.

True story—a few months ago, I was finalizing a relatively small personal injury settlement with a well-known insurance company, when the adjuster discovered that my client’s personal health insurance company was asserting a lien for almost the entire amount of the settlement. If we settled per our agreement, the health insurance company would end up with everything and my client would get nothing. Rather than tell me I was out of luck, the adjuster advised me that he was going to prove that good things happened to good people. My firm, as it turned out, was the “good people” in the scenario. On his own accord, the adjuster sought approval from his supervisor to double his original offer, which would allow for plenty of funds to cover the lien and leave twice as much for my client’s pocket (not to mention a larger fee for the firm). When I seemed shocked by his offer, he responded by telling me how pleasant and cooperative our firm always was to work with and that professionalism like ours should be rewarded from time to time. Needless to say, my client was thrilled with the outcome.

It is not a coincidence that the number one area needing improvement among attorneys according to our learned Judges is professional civility both in and outside the courtroom. Whether you call it karma, the golden rule or just plain human decency, I believe that conducting oneself with respect for others—even when they have an opposing position—is what sets the exceptional attorneys apart from the others. In fact, I think it shows great skill to be able to represent a client both assertively and amicably. While there will always be those notoriously nasty litigators out there that deftly growl and push their way to victory, I am content to not be one of them.