Over the past two years, lawyers have been conducting meetings remotely that often used to take place in person before the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, it makes sense that people would favor virtual meetings during the pandemic rather than in-person ones in order to promote social distancing and keep people safe. However, as people ease back into the new normal now that COVID-19 has subsided to some degree, lawyers and courts are operating in person in many contexts just like before the pandemic. Lawyers should also try to meet adversaries in person more often whenever they can now that operations are somewhat returning to normal so that attorneys can realize the benefits of in-person meetups.
When I was an associate in Biglaw, I rarely, if ever, met any of my adversaries in person. I rarely went to court to argue motions or for other appearances since only the senior lawyers on my team were trusted to argue matters in court. In addition, since the matters were so big, clients rarely wanted me and other junior attorneys to be involved in meetings. Of course, sometimes I would tag along with senior lawyers, but this was a rare event, and I was scarcely an active participant in such meetings.
When I left Biglaw for a smaller firm, I had a much more active role in managing my files. This required me to deal with clients, adversaries, witnesses, and other stakeholders to the legal profession. In order to ensure that things went smoothly, it was often necessary to have a good rapport with adversaries. Sometimes, it was easy enough to build rapport over the phone, but I quickly found out that the best way to build rapport with a counterpart was to meet an adversary in person.
One time, I was involved in a massive document production with an adversary. The document production was intense since we were claiming privilege and other protections, and I had to compile a massive privilege log detailing the documents we withheld from the production on the basis of some kind of protection. A handful of the documents were being reviewed in camera by the court, but my adversary and I were coming to arrangements about some of the documents, which lessened the burden of the court in reviewing the materials.
At one part of the project, I had to produce documents to the adversary. I noticed that the adversary had his office across the street from me. I suggested to my adversary that rather than mail the documents to my counterpart, I could just hand-deliver the documents to him at his office. The weather was pretty nice, and it was no problem taking a short walk to hand deliver the documents.
When I got to my adversary’s office, he seemed happy that I took the time to hand deliver the documents rather than impersonally dropping the documents in the mail. We had a nice conversation, and then we parted ways. After meeting my adversary for the first time in person, it was much easier to work through the document production together. This was likely due to the fact that my adversary and I could now put a face to a name and felt like we had more of a connection than we did just talking on the phone and exchanging emails.
More recently, I was working on a landlord-tenant matter with an adversary, and the negotiation became heated at times. My adversary kept gaslighting me by relating that I was requesting language that was not common and that was not needed due to the mechanics of the agreement we were negotiating. At one point my adversary said that working with me was like getting an IV in the wrong direction. If someone can explain this metaphor to me, I’d appreciate it; I still have a hard time wrapping my head around what my adversary meant!
In any event, when it came time to exchange the executed documents and the payment, it would have been simple enough to drop the materials in the mail. Nevertheless, I thought it would be easier and more personal if I hand-delivered all of the materials to my adversary’s office. The walk was not that bad, and when I met my adversary face to face, all of the tension in the negotiation was gone. We had a nice conversation about our careers, and then we exchanged our documents and ensured that everyone had a copy of all of the relevant materials. The rest of the deal went by without a hitch, likely owing to the fact that my adversary and I built rapport with our in-person meeting.
All told, as we all emerge from our COVID-19 cocoons, lawyers should consider meeting their adversaries in person more often. This can help build rapport that can be critical to ensuring that lawyers have an easier time working with each other.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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