I recently handled two very acrimonious cases, one a family partnership dispute and the other a trust litigation among family heirs. In the partnership case, I came into the case shortly before trial, and inherited several years of heated litigation. I knew the opposing attorneys from several legal organizations I am a member of, but had no real relationship with them. In the trust case, I was dealing with an attorney I had never met before. I telephoned both counsel. My request was the same to both, “I’m inviting you to lunch, my treat. I would like to sit down with you and get to know you. We are going to be in this case a while. Maybe there are things we can agree on that can help both sides going forward.” Both attorneys accepted my invitation.
Both attorneys and I enjoyed meeting together. During the meal, both attorneys said the same thing:
I always heard about the old days when opposing counsel had lunch together and worked out problems. I wonder why attorneys don’t do that any more because I really like this. I wish everybody would do this.
Why isn’t today like the “good old days”?
Today is not like the “good old days” because no one picks up the phone and invites their opponent to lunch. We can change this. We can be a force for good in our profession. We can invite our adversaries to treat us better by treating them civilly in the context of a friendly setting – a lunch. I promise you that opening avenues of communication with opposing counsel will help your clients and will lower your overhead.
What if you needed a favor from the other side?
If you needed a “professional courtesy” in one of your cases, do you think your opponent would accommodate you? For example, assume you missed a deadline and face the choice between asking your opponent for relief or making a motion. If you have created a relationship through being civil and social with your opponent, it will be much easier to ask for the accommodation, and your opponent is more likely to extend the accommodation than if you have never spoken except when lobbing hand grenades at each other.
There are other benefits of a “good relationship”
What if you don’t have to make as many motions in your cases and you can concentrate on preparing for trial or settlement? Is that more productive for you? How about your reputation? What if you never have to make a motion again with a “mea culpa”? Wouldn’t a stipulation from opposing counsel be preferable? Of course it would. If you have established the relationship with your opposing counsel you’re likely to hear, “make your motion.” Solving your problem with a simple phone call leaves you miles ahead in all arenas.
My Modest Proposal: Be the Change you Want to See
If you don’t think things are like the “good old days” it’s time for you to take the imitative and make the call. Pick up the phone. Invite your opponent to lunch. Get to know them. Friendship will create civility in our profession. If you do it, not only will you find your practice has more civility and less animosity but your life will be happier because your work life will not negatively affect your free time. If enough attorneys do it, maybe we can bring back the “good old days.”