Vail Daily column: Bulldogs, strong arms, guppies — oh my!
Ryan Summerlin June 24, 2014
You’ve seen the ads: the strong arm of the law. Bulldog So-And-So. All I can say is, “Oh my!” That’s no way to practice law.
You’ve heard the expression that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar? Well, I suppose so. But unless you are a chameleon (the chameleon of the law perhaps?), catching flies is likely not among your priorities. But dig a little deeper with me.
Here’s my point: In law, as in most other things, a little civility is in order. Who, except a bighorn sheep, wants to go through life butting heads? Well, a butthead, I suppose. And that’s my point; most times a little courtesy and decorum is better. Even in the rough and tumble of the law.
At times, I have occasion to deal with a bulldog. At times, I am even asked to be a bulldog. My reply is this, “Bulldogs seldom get results. All that deep-throated growling is just meant to distract. What you want is results, right, not growling? You don’t have to be good to growl. All you have to do to growl is to know how to growl.
Now, I’m not telling you who you should hire; you want a lawyer from the American Kennel Club, more power to you. But if what you want is an effective lawyer, then you should consider a good listener, one who says please and thank you.
THE CONFIDENT PURR MORE THAN THEY GROWL
I have been at the profession for more than 30 years. I have seen masters in the courtroom and more than a few bozos. What I have noted — nearly without exception — is those that are confident in their craft purr more than they growl. They are courteous and kind to others. They are thoughtful and considerate. They are charming instead of unctuous. Some of the best are — dare I say — even courtly.
The take-home here is that you don’t need to be an SOB to be an effective advocate. In fact the opposite is true.
EMPATHY IS KEY IN A LAWYER
A strength of most good lawyers is the ability to put herself in the opponent’s stilettos — to see the other’s world view — to truly feel her pain.
Empathy is an important part of law.
Lawyers are called “lawyers,” “attorneys” and — my favorite — “counselors.” Although the term is meant to convey primarily that we lawyers counsel others in the law, a good lawyer is more than that. A good lawyer becomes a friend and an advisor. He gets to know what makes you tick and what’s important to you. He is your champion and your cut man. He has the fortitude to tell you “no” and to steer you in more productive directions.
I deal with other lawyers sometimes who are simply pains where you sit. They are the terrorists of law, always angling for a fight. Thankfully, these bulls in a china shop are relatively few. They thrash about, always looking for a battle when a polite how t’do would get them further down the road.
FINESSE GOES FURTHER THAN FORCE
Some clients fervently believe that if their lawyer is the sort of obnoxious person they would never want to spend time with, then their agenda might be more fervently advanced. Fervently, perhaps, but not necessarily further. Those who move the ball most effectively down the field do so with finesse rather than by brutish force.
And all that thrashing about and arguing is costly. If your attorney takes your matter too personally, ask yourself, whose corner is he in — mine or his? Is this her battle or is it mine? Is he acting strategically or simply bombing everything that moves? It is not a strategy to try to mow down everything in sight.
COOPERATE AND LISTEN
Good lawyers recognize the advantages of cooperation. They understand that every story has two sides (or three or four). Even if one side is pretty much invented, a judge or jury might believe it so you had better pay attention. And listen.
We lawyers love to talk. But a good lawyer also knows to listen. As Yogi Berra famously observed, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” With apologies to Yogi, so can you hear a lot by listening.
Now, I’m not telling you who you should hire; you want a lawyer from the American Kennel Club, more power to you. But if what you want is an effective lawyer, then you should consider a good listener, one who says please and thank you. One who maybe even admits that she doesn’t always have all the answers, one with character, one with the fortitude to tell you when you’re wrong.
Don’t believe me? Spend a little time in your nearest courtroom. Watch closely and see who’s effective — the bulldog or the gentleman. The guy who’s thrashing about and angry or the one who’s calm as autumn and prepared?
I’ll take a guppy with sharp teeth, a keen mind and a polished manner any day over a disconsolate and squirmy terrier.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his email addresses, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.