As many of us already know from firsthand experience, the legal profession can be extremely stressful and adversarial at times. Opposing parties in litigation have a duty to diligently advance the positions of their clients, and this can lead to friction between adversaries. In addition, lawyers on opposing sides of a deal may have differing views about terms and conditions that can lead to some heated discussions. However, if adversaries connect more often on a human level, it is much easier to put a name to a face and work toward fostering rapport that can be important to resolving litigation and transactional matters.
Throughout my career, I have tried to connect with adversaries on a more personal level, and this has resulted in some positive outcomes for clients. Even if lawyers see each other at numerous court appearances and depositions, it can be difficult to build a deeper connection with adversaries. One of the easiest ways to build rapport is to invite an adversary to a meal. Often, adversaries find themselves away from their offices together for a deposition or court conference, and everybody has to eat. This could be a good way to make inroads with an adversary that can have a positive impact on a representation.
Earlier in my career, I used to work on mass torts cases, and I spent much of this time on the road and attending court conferences up and down the East Coast. Often, I would be in random places with the other attorneys involved in a matter, including opposing counsel. I would always be the first person to set up a dinner for all of the lawyers staying in an area, and I made sure to invite opposing counsel. Some lawyers on the same side of the “v” as me were a little wary about doing this, and some of the lawyers did not want to be in photos with opposing counsel, but such dinners were always a good time because we could let loose with opposing counsel.
In addition, forging those connections with opposing counsel came in handy on a number of occasions. One time, I had a new client who thought it should be dismissed from a case due to a complicated bankruptcy argument. I did the research, and we plausibly had an argument, but there was, of course, a counterargument to our point. The opposing counsel was a lawyer I had befriended at various counsel dinners over the years. I sent a stipulation of discontinuance to this lawyer and explained our argument. After some time, opposing counsel agreed to stipulate our client out of the case. Of course, I do not think that breaking bread with opposing counsel was the most important reason why opposing counsel decided to stip out our client. However, it couldn’t hurt that the opposing lawyer knew me other than a name on an email that he received.
Meals are not the only time when adversaries can connect on a personal level. It is not completely uncommon for adversaries to attend life events of opposing counsel, especially if relations are relatively cordial. When I was working at a defense firm handling mass torts cases, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers who everyone knew suffered a death in the family. Many of the defense lawyers in that mass tort attended the shiva for this plaintiffs’ lawyer, and I have to believe that this meant a lot to the grieving lawyer and connected everyone on a more personal level. Of course, there are probably some adversaries who lawyers would not want to see during vulnerable times, but this is not true in every situation.
Not that long ago, I had an interesting situation in which an adversary made an appearance in my personal life. I was kibitzing with my adversary, who I had never met on the phone before, and we both discovered that we would both be running a long race that weekend. There were over 10,000 runners at the race, so I did not expect to run into my adversary, but I told opposing counsel that he should look out for me. I am 6 foot 9 inches tall, so there was a good chance I’d be the tallest person running that race if he wanted to look out for me.
About seven miles into the race, I was deteriorating due to the weather and my poor preparation. Randomly, I heard someone behind me call my name. It ended up being that adversary who I had never met before. The adversary and I ran for a little bit and then opposing counsel gave me some encouragement that helped power me through the finish. Now I am able to put a name to the face much more easily, and my adversary and I have an interesting shared experience.
All told, it can be easy to think of adversaries as faceless forces in our professional lives. However, if lawyers connect with adversaries on a more personal level, it can make practicing law much more enjoyable and yield better results for clients.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.