Remaining Civil in a Civil Lawsuit
by Jared Rose
The Law Office of Jared A. Rose, Kansas City
If you’re with a group of lawyers swapping war stories, it won’t be long before someone talks about an opposing counsel who acted unprofessionally. If you’re with a group of defense lawyers, the story might be about an overzealous plaintiff’s lawyer who brought a case with a client who was faking it. If you’re with a group of plaintiffs' lawyers it might be about a defense lawyer who hid incriminating documents. The entire group will generally nod their head and agree that the “other side” is full of bad guys while “their side” is on the side of angels.
Having been a defense lawyer and now a plaintiffs’ lawyer, I have friends on both sides, and I think stories about unprofessional conduct are often blown out of proportion. Sure, there are real bad apples out there. But most of us are just trying to do our jobs as best we can. Mistakes do happen. But most people don’t go to work every day with the idea that they’re going to break ethical rules in pursuit of their clients’ ends.
The next time you feel like the other side is bending the rules, try to think about things as objectively as possible. This will help you keep your cool. And it will help you think things through before you draft a motion for sanctions that has no chance of succeeding. Ask yourself: Is it possible the other side is telling the truth? Is there any possible way that their behavior could be seen as reasonable? Am I sure that I can prove to a judge that they are lying or acting unethically? Unless you can really prove it, a motion for sanctions will probably just annoy the judge. Judges don’t like to grant sanctions. So make sure you’ve got a really good argument.
We all want to feel like we’re working for the “good guys.” We all see things through the eyes of our clients. But before we get too worked up about the behavior of the other side, it’s best to consider things from their perspective. Or if that’s just impossible for you to imagine, then from the perspective of a neutral judge who will be ruling on your motion.