It is common for plaintiff and defense lawyers to know each other, especially in smaller cities. It feels like Oklahoma City has a ton of lawyers, but we seem to see the same defense attorneys all the time. The legal circle here is pretty small.
Sometimes, these lawyers will even be friends. So, should you worry if your lawyer is friends with, or friendly with, opposing counsel? In my experience, the answer to this question is a resounding “No.” Your case may be resolved quicker and fairly if your lawyer is on good terms with opposing counsel.
The Myth of the “Hard to Work With” Lawyer
I am referring to the myth that a lawyer who acts like a donkey (or a more descriptive word!) or “difficult to work with” towards opposing counsel is fighting harder for you and acting in your best interests. This is simply a myth. More often than not, this is far from the case. Television has helped foster the false positive image of “the difficult to play well with others” lawyer — lawyers who get their kicks out of being deceptive and obnoxious towards opposing counsel, sometimes to the point of violating rules of ethics.
In real life, having a “donkey” for a lawyer can damage your case. At best, he or she will make your case more stressful and antagonistic and make the case drag out longer over arguments that should have been amicably resolved. At worst, this may even force you into a trial where one could have been avoided.
A lawyer with a good working relationship with opposing counsel, even one who is friends with opposing counsel, is generally far more desirable. Disagreements happen all the time with opposing counsel, but being difficult to work with on something, such as a scheduling change or the location of a deposition, shouldn’t be a battle. Fighting over issues that don’t increase or decrease the value of a case is largely a waste of time. Fighting every little thing makes the real issues in the case even harder to resolve.
Opposing Counsel as Friends — How Can This Be a Good Thing?
Lawyers are, by nature, not very trusting people. We have been lied (probably too strong of a word, but misled) to by other lawyers, witnesses, and even some of our clients, and it becomes very difficult to take anything at face value. Some defense attorneys say, “This is the absolute final settlement offer!” but make several more higher offers. To give the defense attorney credit, that phrase could be coming from their insurance adjuster, who is calling the shots. Either way, the defense attorney’s statement that it was the “absolute final offer” wasn’t accurate.
If your lawyer is not trusted by opposing counsel, your case can be slowed down considerably or even ground to a halt as the two sides argue over minutiae that ultimately will have little effect on the outcome of your case. When your lawyer expects foul play from the other side, he or she may be forced to file motions for protective orders (orders that limit discovery) or take other precautions that will add months to the case. Settlement negotiations drag out as neither side feels safe discussing the actual merits and flaws of the case in a candid manner that promotes a fair resolution. You are far more likely to needlessly take a case to trial against an attorney you don’t trust than one you do.
When opposing counsel have successfully worked with each other in the past or have gotten to know each other outside the context of litigation (in a social setting), they can focus on what matters in the case without worrying about petty bickering or gamesmanship. Settlement negotiations can be more honest, which is more likely to produce a fair resolution. However, trial lawyers are generally competitive people, even if they are friendly to each other. Just because they are friendly doesn’t mean they’ll give away a settlement just to be friendly.
Communications between the lawyers and the court are limited to things relevant to your case, not pointless ad hominem attacks on opposing counsel. Disputes can often (not always) be resolved without requiring judicial intervention. This can save you months of waiting for motions to be heard and ruled upon by the court.
Being friendly or cordial with opposing counsel doesn’t mean your lawyer isn’t fighting as hard as he or she can for you. I would argue that your lawyer would be especially diligent against a friend because if he or she loses your case, they can expect to hear about it from their friend for a long time.