On Your Own: Drop the Niceties

drop the niceties
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If you’ve done this job long enough, you’ve observed attorneys whose demeanors seem better suited for Thunderdome than litigation. There’s little I have more disdain for than a bully (introspection disclaimer: I recognize one person’s bully might be another’s hero). No one should be mean for sport or self-satisfaction. However, there are times in this profession where we need to be stern and comfortable with being unpopular.

Everyone makes mistakes in whatever role they perform in the legal world. We have more control over preventing some mistakes than others. As our practices expand, we have no choice but to rely on others for support if our goal is continued growth in number and scope of cases. At some point, we unfortunately can’t recheck every pinpoint citation to fact or law. We have to trust that the person we’re paying gives us the right information.

If we’re going to trust the people working for us, we have to take an active role in helping them get better. When material mistakes are made, we can’t leave our employees with the impression that they did everything perfectly if they didn’t. Some people need that conversation to be very firm. I typically need to be hit with a brick for things to sink in. Every person and relationship is different, but it’s critical not to send mixed messages. It builds resentment towards a more disastrous dénouement.

For similar reasons, we owe it to our clients to be firm with opposing counsel, when necessary. I like to make friends as much as anyone, but my obligations of zealous advocacy demand that I hold opposing parties and their counsel accountable. If a party is dishonest in their discovery obligations, I owe it to my clients to press that issue as hard as possible. For a solo or small firm often working on a contingency fee, that can be taxing, but it’s unethical to take cases if we’re not prepared to fight the important battles in them.

I do not believe opposing counsel should always be let off the hook. While we often preach not taking matters personally, that’s not a virtue I can always abide by. There are rare instances where it seems fairly obvious that an attorney plays a role in concealing information or manufacturing false testimony. I can’t help but to take that personally. It often results in some series of events that takes my time away from my family or other substantive case issues. My East Coast roots only allow me to be so Minnesota Nice. Sometimes, we just need to say the things that need to be said.

Jeff Storms

Jeff Storms is a partner at Newmark Storms Dworak LLC. He has a diverse litigation practice with an emphasis on plaintiff’s civil rights and sexual abuse litigation. Jeff is a perennial Super Lawyer and has twice been named an “Attorney of the Year” by Minnesota Lawyer.

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