10 Tips for Getting Along with Opposing Counsel

  1. Stop calling him “opposing counsel.” Use of that term kind of sets the wrong tone. He has a name – use it, even when referring to him with your staff. Humanize him, and then you’ll probably have an easier time dealing with him when he turns out not to be perfect.
  2. Establish a rapport with him. Get to know the lawyer personally. I like to meet for coffee at the start of an engagement, even with a colleague I already know pretty well. Taking the time to make a personal connection can do you and your client a world of good. You probably have more in common with the other lawyer than you do with your own client.
  3. Feel her pain. But for the grace of God, you could be representing her client. Family clients are challenging. If the other attorney has her hands full, she’ll appreciate your empathy. And by knowing what difficulties she may face, you can better counsel and direct your client.
  4. Let her feel your pain. Of course, you could have a tough situation on your hands as well. If your client is fragile or in denial, letting the other attorney know could help you to create an environment where your client will feel more comfortable and less pressured, and hopefully work more effectively to deal with his or her issues.
  5. Work cooperatively rather than antagonistically. Productivity, effectiveness and satisfaction increase sharply when humans cooperate with each other. Which do you prefer: cases where you get along with the other attorney or cases where every professional interaction is a hassle? Commit to cooperation, even if the other party makes it difficult to do so. This probably won’t be the last time you cross this attorney’s path and he’ll appreciate the fact that you’re not one of those attorneys who busts his hump, even if he occasionally busts yours.
  6. When asking for a favor, say “please.” Remember, the definition of a favor is doing something for someone that you’re not legally or morally required to do. Rescheduling a deposition to accommodate someone’s vacation is a favor. Splitting the cost of a court reporter is a favor. Arranging for a client’s boss to appear without the need for a subpoena is a favor. When asking for such things, follow your mom’s advice: remember to say “please.” And when someone does a favor for you, remember to be appreciative, perhaps overly so. People like to do favors for people who are appreciative.
  7. You don’t have to “like” the other attorney. I never understand how attorneys develop strong emotional responses to dealing with other attorneys. “I hate that lawyer” should not come out of your mouth. Then, it’s all about how you “feel.” And your client will suffer as a result. Professionals need to be above that. We deal with difficult people every day in other facets of our lives, and we don’t let it rock our world.
  8. Refrain from being unduly critical of another attorney in front of your client. Sometimes, this is tough advice to follow, but demonizing the other attorney achieves nothing other than exposing your frustration over your inability to deal effectively with him or her. I can say “he missed the deadline” or “she backed out of our agreement to a mutual exchange of bank statements” without editorializing that “man, what a liar that lawyer is.”
  9. Act with integrity. Acting with integrity means doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. And if you didn’t deliver on a promise, you need to let everyone know that you’re sorry for that and make amends. Be a person of your word. You can’t be surprised when others fail to act with integrity when you don’t.
  10. Don’t expect a big hug for your troubles. Your efforts in being a Peaceful Warrior may not always be met with a warm response. Be satisfied that you’re doing the right thing. I’ve been practicing law for over a quarter century, and I know that I enjoy much better relationships with other family law professionals in my area by building bridges than I would have if I had adopted some other approach. And I love practicing family law. Can you say the same?
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