Although I am a New York personal injury lawyer 95% of the time, every once in a while I let myself get talked into representing a plaintiff in a non-injury case. Usually it is to sue for breach of contract or something like that. Recently, I had a three-day bench trial (that means it was tried before a judge rather than a jury) on such a case.
My opponent was an ass. He made lots of useless objections, shouted and screamed a lot, and had a very sarcastic tone during his cross-examinations. He never smiled and he had a permanent scowl on his face. He looked mean. This particular lawyer has a reputation for being needlessly aggressive, unlikeable, and unkind. Other lawyers I have talked to about him do not think he is good or effective — he is all smoke and no fire.
He has a steady stream of clients, though. Most of them men are of a certain type. They are the kind of men who have big aggressive dogs. This lawyer is, apparently, some kind of bulldog for them.
When we finished the trial, I thought I had probably won, but the judge wanted to “reserve”, meaning he would write a Decision later.
Three weeks later the Decision arrived. I had won. My client got all the money he had sued for, plus interest. I called him and told him the good news. His response? “I can’t believe we won —- that other lawyer was so aggressive! I thought he had beaten us!”
Moral of the story: Being needlessly mean and “tough” in the courtroom may impress some clients, and even the other lawyer’s clients. But that’s because non-lawyers’ impressions of what good lawyering is comes from TV shows. In the real courtroom, good lawyering means being smart, skillful and persistent — and being likeable can’t hurt, either.
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