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Law

How do you deal with toxic opposing counsel? The miserable aggressive bully type who have to make things personal and attack you/your firm for no reason?

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I enjoy working with toxic opposing counsel. They always put their comments in writing - which is great when I attach it to a motion to compel or in opposition to a similar motion. If the emails are in the context of settlement negotiation or a serious discovery dispute, I will forward them to the GC of the company I represent. If they are yelling or caterwauling on the phone, I just keep mine on mute until I need to respond. It also ticks these individuals off if you say “I missed that first part, Dave. Can you repeat that?” after they’ve gone on a long rant. They usually cannot even remember their own position. I think of them in the same way I think about children who throw temper tantrums in the airport. Horrified for the parent (client), but laughing hysterically on the inside. I always remember that it is not about me and that nothing they say reflects on my work or my client. Keep calm and carry on.

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Looking forward to using the "missed the first part, can you repeat that?" Haha.

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So many good responses here. Never, ever, ever engage in a manner that lets them know they’ve gotten under your skin. If you have to write out a response that feels good do so, but then delete it and start over. Helps if you have kids, because parenting small children is not dissimilar to dealing with horrible opposing counsel. All about calmly educating them about what is acceptable amongst the rest of society. The message should be “I’m not going to engage in this nonsense so you can throw all the tantrums you want. I’ll be over here acting like an adult and talking about the merits.”

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Respond only when needed for the case, and keep written correspondence professional. Makes them look ridiculous in front of the judge. Get your rocks off verbally if needed.

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Agreed. Nothing makes them angrier than you sending the message that they’re not even on your radar. Two quotes that always come to mind in this situation (and yes, I do realize how corny they are): 1. My dad always says “The dogs will always bark. Be the train that keeps rolling.” 2. Don Draper responding to Ginsberg saying he feels sorry for him: “I don’t think about you at all.”

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My colleague had a court conference by phone. The judge put them on hold but had the attorneys on speaker phone. Opposing counsel called my colleague an asshole not realizing the judge could hear them. The judge sanctioned him 5k.

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YES JUDGE

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Recently had this experience, phone conversation in particular (although he’d been spiraling in writing the entire week prior). I refused to engage and was firm, but overly polite with him and it made him angrier and angrier. It got to the point that he was swearing at me, threatening to turn me into the ethics board, the whole nine yards. After he used a completely inappropriate phrase/curse, I paused and simply said “I would appreciate it if you refrained from swearing at me for the remainder of this conversation.” Cue 30 seconds of silence and a semi-productive conversation after that. Follow up: I documented the entire call in an email (including specific curses), and sent it to the partner. She immediately emailed OC, included the exact language he used, and said if he ever spoke like that to me again she’d slap the email in a motion for sanctions. Got him to shut up.

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I send him a link that when he clicks on it shows The Dude: “Yeah, well that’s just like your opinion man ...”

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Largely ignoring it is the best way, not just for you - you should actually ignore everything other than work related comments, but also send a message loud and clear. I’ve seen people do that. If on the phone the person says something, you either just keep dead silent or just redirect the conversation to the work at hand by talk about the work. If they stop you and ask you what you thought about their comment, you say it’s irrelevant to what you’re trying to do. If this doesn’t work, I once stopped working and literally told the person on the phone that unless he learns to behave himself and talk to me with respect, we cannot move forward. The risk with that approach is that you will have to explain this to the client in an effective manner and the client should be okay with it. I’d say just ignore until they get the point that they have no audience.

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You kick their ass at every turn on every issue and never let it get personal. It’s better than a punch in the gut and sooner(usually) or later they will figure out that you can’t be bullied.

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I call them out on it to their face, then I typically say something like “I’m not going to continue to engage in a conversation with someone who can’t, at a minimum, maintain professionalism when speaking to me.” Typically, being a younger female makes the old school male attorneys think they can be rude to me. You’ve got to quickly adjust their attitude or it will get worse. Once addressed, I haven’t had any other issues. I sometimes wonder if they even realize how condescending they are being until it’s pointed out to them.

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Yes !!! These old dudes think they are running the show but when a young female like you or me gets them in front of a judge or jury, it doesn’t work out well !!!!

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Don’t let if affect you (or at least don’t let them see it). Stay cool, calm and professional at all times. It tends to incite them even more (which I find funny). And then I put whatever garbage they put in writing in front of the judge at every opportunity (eg motion to compel). They make for wonderful exhibits.

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I make every interaction I have with them annoyingly positive and pleasant. The cattier opposing counsel gets, the more patronizingly nice I become. It’s actually hilarious

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With humor always, don’t let it become personal to you

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I dealt with a pair of those in private practice. They tried to take shots at any given opportunity. However, keep notes and document everything. Judges don't like folks being assholes. I won in the end 😂

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Not the attorneys with whom I have dealt, and that’s because sanctions are rare.

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And when I say deal, I mostly mean get them to stop being so snide and verbally aggressive? I can generally float above and take compassion on such miserable human beings, but the rude emails and calls feel violent and do bring a lot of negative energy into my day.

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(1) Remind yourself “this too shall pass.” (2) Try to laugh about it with your friends/spouse/coworkers - create a caricature of opposing counsel in your mind (maybe with an amusing nickname) and relentlessly make fun of him/her in your head. (Think plot of It: Chapter Two or the scene in Harry Potter with the boggart - make it funny and the negativity won’t hurt you.)

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Cry it out.

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