As many legal professionals can relate from firsthand experience, certain tasks in legal practice are stressful and provoke anxiety among lawyers. Many attorneys do not like to conduct doc review, and oral arguments, following up with clients about discovery requests, and other matters can be a chore. One task that really raises my blood pressure for some reason is reading papers submitted by an adversary. Based on an informal poll I took of lawyers with whom I regularly interact, this seems like a common source of stress for many lawyers.
Back in the olden days (which I can still kind of remember) attorneys were generally only notified that they were served with papers during business hours since lawyers would only know an adversary filed papers when they received a copy of the papers by mail. With the advent of e-filing, lawyers can be notified at any time of the day or night that an adversary has filed papers to which they need to respond. Lawyers frequently file papers after hours and over the weekend, likely because lawyers need to get work done whenever they can. However, once attorneys get an email that an adversary has filed papers against them, it can be hard to resist the urge to read the papers immediately, or at least think about the papers during personal time when people usually try to have a separation of work. When people used to just mail documents and file them in person with the clerk of the court, it was unlikely that a lawyer would be bothered with filings after hours, but e-filing expands the opportunity for a lawyer to be notified that papers have been filed against them.
When I read an adversary’s papers, I sometimes get really anxious about what might be inside the documents. It is difficult to predict what an adversary will argue, and it often takes time to craft a counterargument to oppose points raised by an adversary. In the moment of reading papers right after they are filed, however, it is easy to feel trepidation about being able to effectively counter the points that an adversary has made, and this can create a feeling of unease.
Perhaps the biggest reason why it can be stressful to read an adversary’s papers is because attorneys are trained advocates and likely intensely disagree with the points being made in an adversary’s papers. In that moment when a lawyer first reads an adversary’s papers, they have not yet created their counterarguments, and it is easy to feel stressed about being confronted by points with which you adamantly disagree. Furthermore, an adversary very likely frames the facts in a way that the other attorney feels does not accurately illustrate the entire truth of a given situation. It can be frustrating to be confronted with an adversary’s version of events since this is likely radically different with how the other attorney views the facts of a case.
The tone of an adversary’s papers can also add to the stress that lawyers experience when they read another lawyer’s papers for the first time. Papers submitted in litigation can sometimes get kind of personal. Of course, lawyers don’t call their adversary names, and papers are generally pretty plain. However, papers usually try to paint how misguided, desperate, or wrong their adversaries are, and this can be frustrating to read, even for the most seasoned lawyers.
I have to admit, my aversion to reading an adversary’s papers used to really get to me. I would typically only read an adversary’s papers once so that I could avoid reliving the stress over reviewing the documents. One time, this might have been the reason I missed a footnote in my adversary’s papers agreeing to dismiss some claims in the litigation, which would have saved me some effort in my reply papers since I did not need to counter these claims in the papers.
More recently, I have mellowed out about reading an adversary’s papers, and really, about pretty much every aspect of practicing law. I no longer take things as personally as I did when I was a “baby” lawyer, and I recognize that lawyers are just doing their jobs when they frame facts in the light most favorable to themselves or use strong language to make their points. An adversary’s papers should not be materials to avoid, since it is important to review the documents several times to ensure that all of the points are properly digested and that counterarguments are adequately created.
All told, there are plenty of parts of the legal profession that can be stressful since the adversarial nature of lawyers basically guarantees that there will be conflict in what they do on a daily basis. However, with a little perspective, reading an adversary’s papers does not typically need to be an overly stressful experience.
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.