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Hold Your Own Against Opposing Counsel

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

I was David; opposing counsel was Goliath.

I was a solo practitioner working out of my house; their office lobby was bigger than my house.

The firm had so many lawyers they occupied three floors in a downtown high-rise. I was defending a mom-and-pop art dealer; the other side was suing for millions of dollars.

As you might guess, I was a little intimidated. But, as you may also have guessed from the David v. Goliath reference, there are some soft skills you can learn to equal the playing field even when you are fresh out of law school.

Rule No. 1: Be on Time

When we had our first hearing, the Big Law team certainly showed up. But I, the newly minted attorney, was early.

The judge, who was older than the courtroom, looked at his watch and calculated that the opposing counsel was running late. So he asked me what was going on.

I told him my case in a nutshell, and by the time opposing counsel entered the courtroom, the judge had made up his mind. Guess who won that $100,000 motion?

Rule No. 2: Be Respectful

I learned this lesson from an opposing counsel, who was one of the orneriest lawyers I had ever known. Little did he know that he taught me how to be respectful at all times.

He had threatened me with as many motions and sanctions as any firm up to that point in my career. But when we walked into the courtroom, he magically changed into a truly "civil" attorney. It dawned on me that he was suddenly civil because now prospective jurors were watching.

In my next trial, I carried that air of civility with me everywhere in the courthouse. And I'll never forget, as jurors shuffled back into court with their verdict, that one of them gave me the "thumbs up" sign.

Rule No. 3: Be True

As officers of the court, lawyers are charged with an absolute ethical duty to tell the truth. This maxim should follow attorneys in discharging all their duties to judges, clients, and opposing counsel.

But another aspect to being true, especially when dealing with opposing counsel, is to be true to yourself. If you have decided to prosecute a righteous case, for example, do not be dissuaded simply because opposing counsel tells you so.

I remember fighting a high-profile case against one of the biggest law firms that money could buy. In the beginning, the opposing counsel told me that their client would never pay a dollar of my client's demand. In the end, however, they paid exactly what we had demanded.

Rule No. 4: Be Humble

This rule may be the hardest for lawyers, especially for litigators. But it's about being teachable.

Every lawyer has experiences that can inform others, and being teachable is the key to learning. Consider these pointers from another lawyer -- who could just be your next opposing counsel -- about how not being intimidated by opposing counsel.

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