Dealing with a Nasty Attorney When You are Representing Yourself
Not every attorney that you deal with is going to be understanding, patient, or even nice just because you are representing yourself. Attorneys are just people and as people there are good and bad ones. It can be challenging when you are representing yourself to deal with a nasty attorney who is representing your adversary. Often, attorneys, like hungry wolves in the forest, see pro se litigants (pro se means you are representing yourself without an attorney) as prey. The attorney smells blood and goes in for the kill. So how can you deal with difficult opposing counsel while you are struggling to learn the law and procedures so that you can adequately prove or defend your position? While there is no silver bullet that can protect you from a nasty wolf of an attorney, there are few tips that you should know that can help you better manage the situation.
TIP#1 Understand the Difference Between Aggressive and Disrespectful
It is important that you are able to identify a decent lawyer, who is utilizing legal strategy and tactics to best represent his client, versus someone was just a bad person. As a pro se litigant, you are often at a disadvantage simply because the attorney knows the rules and procedures and you don't. There's nothing wrong with an attorney who uses that knowledge to the benefit of his clients. A good lawyer, while protecting his client, will not be disrectfull or deliberately try to hurt you. Rather, they are just doing their job. If the lawyer shows you respect, returns your calls and communications, and sticks to his word, he is probably a decent person.
On the other end of the spectrum is the aggressive attorney who is obnoxious and disrespectful. Most people will know within the first few interactions with the attorney that he or she is going to be a problem. There is no reason for an attorney to be nasty or disrespectful to someone who is representing himself without an attorney. Yet, many attorneys are. They seem to take pleasure in being mean or dishonest to a pro se litigant. These attorneys are not just protecting their client, they are actually out to make you feel badly or to humiliate you. While the general attorney brotherhood may dispute this fact, it is true.
It is important that you know what type of person you are dealing with as soon as possible. In the immortal words of the 1980's GI Joe cartoon series, "Knowing is Half the Battle." Be aware of what kind of attorney you are dealing with and you will be better able to protect yourself.
TIP#2 Everything in Writing
If you know that an attorney is a wolf, you need to take extra precautions to protect yourself. Bad attorneys may go so far as to promise you something over the phone and then deny they ever promised you anything when the get to court. Others will twist your words into a statement that you did not make. They best way to protect yourself is to memorialize everything in writing. If you call an attorney an ask for an extension of time to answer the complaint and he gives you an extension, send him a letter, email or both, memorialize his promise to give you the extension. My general rule is, if it is important to the case, write it down.
TIP#3 Staty Organized
When you are dealing with a nasty attorney chances are they will not give you an extension of time if you miss a date or deadline. Instead, they will take advantage of your lack of procedural knowledge and try to exploit it. Therefore, you need to be as organized as possible. This means, you should calendar important dates, hearings and deadlines and regularly check them. You should also maintain an organized file so that you know where all the case documents are. By staying organized you can reduce the advantage or perceived advantage that the opposing counsel may have.
TIP#4 Talk Less and Listen More
It is generally better to guard what you say. Some attorneys will play you. They want you to say a lot because it gives them more chances to trip you up or use a statement against you. Many nasty attorneys will deliberately appear like they understand where you are coming from and that they want to help you when in fact, you are giving them more ammunition because you are saying way too much. This is especially true if you are giving testimony at a deposition.
TIP#5 Be Mr. Spock
So what I mean by this (for those of you who don't follow Star Trek) is that you need to try to suppress emotion as much as possible when you are representing yourself. It is hard, I know, but you have to find a way. Nasty attorneys will use your emotions against you. They will try to get you upset and flustered so that you don't do the best job you can do. When you are in court or speaking with opposing counsel, force yourself to be calm and collected, You are free to breakdown and cry at home when your adversary is not around. Remember the old deodorant commercials? - "Never let them see you sweat" - these are actually words to litigate by.
Summary Dealing with nasty or mean attorneys can be a real challenge for people who are representing themselves. They key to remember is that no matter how mean the attorney is, the facts are the facts. If you are right in your beliefs or position there is little that an attorney can do to avoid the facts. What he can do is try to throw you off your game. He can try to break your confidence or insult you but he can't change the facts. If you stay calm and organized you will be better able to present the facts to a judge or jury in a light most favorable to you.