I arrived early for the deposition but somehow, in his mind, I was late. I was also young. This angered him. I went to shake his hand, but his arm never moved. Rather, he looked me up and down and sarcastically said, “Great, looks like we’re gonna be here forever.”
In the next two hours I learned more about psychology and conflict resolution–the hard way–than the facts of the case. Every pause was greeted with annoyed exhales. Every question was followed by an objection. Every exhibit was contested. Threats to end the deposition were constant. Insults to my intelligence, not even creative ones, were mumbled and directly said on record. Quite simply, this was the single biggest jerk opposing counsel I had ever encountered. He was from hell. Well, he was from something lower than hell. Is there such a thing?
To back up, this was not a complicated case—a slip-and-fall on a sidewalk with exceedingly minor injuries. I was deposing a witness who claims she saw an accumulation of ice at the scene. That’s it. Nothing more.
“If you don’t know how to take a deposition, then I’ll ask the questions,” was the first statement on the record. My first instinct was to politely, but firmly, place my fist through his jaw. However, as the deposition proceeded forward, my anger turned to curiosity. Why was he so angry? Personal reasons? Hates his job? Secretly attracted to me?
As a young lawyer, I encounter this attitude more often than not. However, I have a step-by-step guide for how to handle the situation.
- Never apologize for being young or inexperienced. Inexperience is a weakness, yes, but youth is a strength. Either way, neither is something that warrants an apology.
- Do not feed the beast. Never retort. Never engage. Just let the opposing counsel blow off some steam. They are looking for a response and to establish dominance. Fighting is futile.
- Kill everyone in the room with kindness. This includes the court reporter, other attorneys and any support staff. Do not make snide remarks during breaks. Do not roll your eyes. Just do the job.
- Remember, the legal community is small. It’s like high school. Reputations, true or not, tend to dominate. Keep your reputation professional.
- If nothing works, wait for him in the parking lot …
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Do not follow #5.
I may not know what I’m talking about, but I think you understand … .
William Melater, or “Bill” to his close friends, is a young associate attorney working at a firm focused on commercial litigation and transactional work. A self-described legal hunter and gatherer, Bill has accumulated a plethora of legal certificates and diplomas—all of which have been appropriately framed and hung behind his desk. Bill has a distaste for emails, suspenders, fake tans, paralegals who cry, sea urchins and attorneys who repeat the phrase “this is my bottom-line offer.” When irked, Bill blogs about his experiences at Attorney at Work.