December 15, 2011 Practice Points

Dealing With Jerks

By Amber Pershon

Reminding oneself that what goes around comes around may be the best way of dealing with “jerks” in the legal profession, according to a recent article in the Fall 2011 issue of the ABA JournalDealing With Jerks:What Goes Around Comes Around, 37 Am. Bar Ass’n 19 (2011). The article defines the meaning of jerks as those “few attorneys for whom getting under their adversary’s skin seems more important than the result they achieve for their client.” While this personality type is bound to surface in high pressure trial work, the article suggests that jerk attorneys are “not as successful as those attorneys who keep their eye on the prize.” The article proposes that successful trial work comes from “single-minded focus on the end result” and offers some tips for dealing with jerk attorneys.

One tip is to not “respond in kind” or “rise to the bait,” as Gregory R. Hanthorn, cochair for the Ethics and Professionalism Committee, and Anne Marie Seibel, cochair of The Woman Advocate Committee, suggest in the article. Often, bad behavior is done just to get a reaction or impress a client. The article suggests responding by keeping calm, conducting important discussions with difficult personalities one-on-one rather than in front of an audience, and maintaining restraint and professionalism in written correspondence, such as emails.

Additionally, preparing yourself and your client regarding both the case and opposing counsel’s personality is the best way to handle depositions. Finally, the article concludes with the idea that bad behavior will eventually be found out. In the legal world where “every person an attorney encounters is either a potential client or a possible referral,” good character is remembered and rewarded with additional business.

Keywords: adversary, success, bad behavior

Amber Pershon, Phoenix School of Law in Phoenix, Arizona.


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