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Attorney Van O'Steen

'Bulldog' Lawyer Can Hurt Your Case More Than Help

Van O'Steen

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Some people are unreasonable, belligerent and unnecessarily aggressive. Some of these people are lawyers, although in my experience few lawyers are like this. Not many people in any occupational group routinely behave poorly.

Those who do, however, may taint the entire profession in the eyes of some. Because of the nature of their work—dispute resolution in an adversarial setting—lawyers are especially vulnerable to unfair generalizations about their conduct.

Ironically, some people who deplore overbearing and contentious behavior in general may look for it in their own lawyer. I cannot tell you how often I hear people who are searching for a lawyer say they want one who is a "mean, nasty bulldog" (or words to that effect).

I never recommend such lawyers, although I know a few. They almost always are counterproductive. Unreasonable lawyers do not achieve good, early results.

The judicial system generally should be used as a last resort to resolve disputes. It is appropriate only when all other methods have failed. Lawyers and their clients who do not recognize this impose unnecessary and unreasonable burdens on themselves and others.

Judges do not value ruthless or overly aggressive lawyers. With increasing frequency, judges are penalizing lawyers for rude or unreasonable conduct.

Reasonable lawyers do not respect belligerent lawyers, either. Overbearing conduct by an opposing lawyer stiffens resistance by good lawyers. Unfortunately, this unnecessary conflict harms everyone, including the client who made the poor hiring decision. The price to be paid includes delay, increased stress and greater expense.

If you need a lawyer, get one. If you don't, avoid them. Never, however, make the mistake of hiring a "bulldog" to represent you. The qualities you should demand in a lawyer are those you want from everyone—competence, hard work and a reasonable demeanor.

When you meet with a lawyer, do your best to assess his or her personality. If the lawyer boasts about being tough and aggressive, consider looking elsewhere. A competitive spirit is an asset, a combative personality is not.