Lawyers You Will Meet: the Crazy
Posted on February 8th, 2011
Yes, there’s a lot of crazy in the courtroom, and that’s before the inmates are brought in for plea and sentencing. Maybe it’s because you have to be a little crazy to believe in justice, mandatory minimum sentences,* and future interests.** Or to go to law school when it involves taking on 100K+ in additional loans at usurious interest rates. Or studying months for one stupid test that will be graded by gnomes living in the state bar’s basement. There’s a lot of willing suspension of disbelief (which is the only reason I can figure why lawyers will read John Grisham novels) – and OCD, perfectionism, narcissistic personality disorder (if that still exists as a diagnosis), and the just plain wacky.
If you’re lucky, you’ll know you’re dealing with crazy from the beginning, because then you can plan accordingly. (Document, document, document. Never talk on the phone if you can help it. CYA. Use the buddy system.) Also, chances are everyone else in the bar knows the other lawyer is crazy. A hint: if the judge sounds exasperated at the other lawyer before the other lawyer even speaks, the lawyer is probably crazy. (Or the judge is – sometimes you get both.)
Some signs you’re dealing with a crazy lawyer: speaks about himself in the third person, is under 40 and wears bow ties, the first time you meet tells you that he was sexually molested as a child (really happened to me, with a guy old enough to be my father), is verbally abusive (more than the average lawyer), or is nice one day and loony tunes the next. Trust your instincts.
In that vein, sometimes you’ll have a case with an attorney who is seemingly normal, but who just goes off one day – on you, in court – whatever. Presuming that you’re not in physical danger, tell the attorney that he or she is out of line, set appropriate boundaries, and then document it in your case file and in a letter. If it’s weird enough, you might have to report the conduct.
When the crazy is a boss, it’s trickier. Again, it helps if you recognize it going in. Sometimes the boss makes you feel like you’re the crazy one. If you were sane before you took the job, chances are that either you’re still sane or you’re only temporarily crazy because of the boss. So, figure out if you’re willing to deal with it. If you’re not, placate and look for a new job. If you have to deal with it, get a book on whatever crazy the boss is and try to understand it – and as much as you can, use the crazy to your advantage. I know, that’s so much easier said than done. (If these steps don’t work, you could take a sabbatical to stay at home with your three year old. I’m just throwing that out there as a possibility.)
[If the boss is only a little crazy but also an asshole and a bully, I suggest reading The No Asshole Rule. It won't fix the boss, but it will make you understand what's going on and help you get out of there.]
Another place you’ll encounter the crazy is in the pro se opposing party. There are lots of non-crazy pro ses out there, usually in family law (although an argument can be made that anyone who is pro se is crazy, but let’s face it, lawyers are expensive), but you may generally assume that a pro se is crazy. They will call you, their opponent’s attorney, a lot. They will suck you dry, and you will never get your costs back. Judges will bend over backwards to make sure things were done fairly, so document the hell out of your conversations, if you have them (and you shouldn’t). Also, never give them your cell phone number.
If you’re noticing a trend about communicating in writing, it’s because I absolutely believe it’s a better way of doing things – for about 75% of communications. I like to have a paper trail to look back at, whether it’s with difficult counsel or difficult clients. Phone notes aren’t that helpful. If you use email properly, you don’t have to be a slave to it. Take an hour or two after lunch and do all your email then, then check it again before you leave. Turn off alerts at other times. Check it if you want at other times of day, but don’t let it ruin your productive times.
*Actually, I don’t know anyone who believes in mandatory minimum sentences.
**Because who but a crazy person actually writes a will that says, “From A to B for life, then to C for life, remainder to D, if D has remained a virgin until marriage and has never drunk a Pepsi?”