Lawyers you will meet: the Clueless Know-It-All
Posted on June 5th, 2012
This is another in my Practice Tips series. It’s been a while since I’ve added to the ranks of the Lawyers You Will Meet. (I swear, AV-H, I will get around to the lecherous icky old man lawyer next!)
We dropped my husband off at work this morning, and I saw a guy on the street who made my jaw drop. Is that — is that THAT GUY? He was wearing a tweed jacket, rumpled trousers, and trail running shoes. Granted, that could describe half of the men in Portland (swap out “skinny jeans” for “rumpled trousers” and you have the other half).
That guy is one of of the most annoying opposing counsel I’ve ever had the misfortune to be up against. He’s the worst of the worst, the guy most people are probably thinking of while they’re cursing attorneys in general: the Clueless Know-It-All.
If you’re a lawyer, you met the Clueless Know-It-All back in school. They’re gunners, usually wrong, and usually wasting half the class time with completely inane hypos for the professors and trying to show off their knowledge — or, sadly, lack thereof. As I’m typing this, I’m hearing the droning voices of a half-dozen of my graduating class’s know-it-alls. (Is this what schizophrenia is like? Because MY GOD it is scary.) They’re also the folks lying about their grades to fit their self-image.
Healthy, normal new lawyers spend a couple of years alternating between complete and utter terror, exhaustion, occasional elation, and “oh shit!” moments when they realize they’ve screwed something up. (Pro tip: most “oh shit!” moments really won’t result in disbarment, although it feels like it at the time.) Gradually, attorneys gain in confidence and competence, and eventually walking into the courthouse is a good feeling. That’s not to say you won’t be shat upon by the honorable judicial system, but you’ll know when to duck most of the time.
The Clueless Know-It-All doesn’t go through this phase. He springs forth from the swearing-in ceremony knowing everything — in fact, he knew it all back that first day in 1L.
Having them as opposing counsel is a drag because:
1) If you have a case on contingency, you have to waste a lot of time while they soliloquize every phone call, even if it’s just a “do you object to a reset of this hearing date?” call. They love to hear themselves talk!
2) They are so assured of their rightness that even if you pull out the statutes, on-point opinions, and a half-dozen treatises showing them exactly why their client will lose and it is in their best interest to settle now, they will again soliloquize on their rightness.
3) This means any case with them will go to trial or hearing, unless you can somehow manage to convince their client how bad the situation is. Given that you can’t communicate with their client, there’s really only one way to do that: in court or in mediation. And nothing makes the Clueless Know-It-All’s client freak out more than watching his lawyer get bitch-slapped with a “Why are we here, counsel? Why haven’t you responded to Ms. AAL’s reasonable settlement offer?” (Note for attorneys: that was a federal administrative hearing and we could discuss previous settlement offers.)
But if you dig Schadenfreude, and I do, there is one plus to having this massive pain in the ass as opposing counsel: winning. The stunned look on his face, watching him regroup and try to turn this into something that looks like he won, and watching him deal with his client afterward? That is priceless. Sure, it sucks for his client, but that is not our problem.
- Document, document, document.
- Don’t take the guy’s phone calls unless you have to confer verbally. He’s a phone vampire. Call him back during off hours and leave a message. Email. Resort to faxed letters, because you know what? He will send you rambling 20 paged faxed letters at 5 PM on a Friday. (There’s a bit of overlap with the Douche here.)
- Related: don’t let him waste any more of your time than you have to.
- Don’t think about him during off hours. Let it go. Hit a punching bag if you have to.
- Read up on the Dunning-Kruger effect.
- Keep meticulous records of all of your time spent on the case, even if you’re on contingency, because you never know when you’ll be asking the court for fees and costs associated with responding to a spurious motion.