How To Deal With Jerks

This may be hard to believe, but when you are involved in the practice of family law for any period of time, you will run into your share of jerks.  Often, these are opposing counsel — men and women — who believe that the best way to accomplish something is to be either insulting or passive aggressive.  As often as not, they are compensating for their own lack of knowledge or their sense of inferiority.  Sometimes the jerk is the opposing party.  Sometimes the jerk is my client.

I don’t want my client to be a jerk to his or her spouse.  If the jerk is my client, I figure out a way to communicate to them that the process will go more smoothly if they treat their spouse with some amount of respect.  This usually works.

If the jerk is the other party, there’s not much I can do about it.  As an attorney, I am not allowed to communicate directly with an opposing party who is represented.  But, I give my client plenty of advice about how to deal with their spouse who is acting like a jerk.

If the jerk is the opposing attorney, there is quite a bit I can do about it.

Make no mistake–jerks are bullies.  And again, the jerk / bully can be a man or it can be a woman.  Being a bully is an equal opportunity personality trait.  I do not like bullies.  Long ago, on the playground in grade school, I learned that the best way to deal with a bully is to fight back.  Bullies really are cowards, when it gets down to it.

Of course, now that I am a lawyer, I fight back differently.  Usually bullies try to do their bullying in a setting where they cannot be found out.  And, usually this is in the context of a telephone call.  So, if an attorney starts acting like a jerk and tries to bully me in a telephone call, I very calmly explain to them what they are doing, what their strategy is, and why that strategy will not work.  It will not work because I understand all the cheap bullying tricks and I know how to respond.  If I communicate to the other attorney, politely, that they are wasting their breath, usually they stop acting like a jerk.

But, some attorneys continue to act like a jerk.  When they do, I explain to them that they have lost the privilege of talking to me on the telephone.  You see, there is no rule that says an attorney has to answer the phone when ever it rings.  If the attorney persists in being a jerk, I tell him or her not to call me any more, and to put anything they have to say to me in writing.  That way, I have something to bring to the Minnesota Lawyer’s Board of Professional Responsibility if the situation warrants it.  And when the jerk attorney calls, I tell my receptionist to tell them that I will not take their call and to put whatever they have to say to me in a letter.  This makes the jerk attorney’s life more difficult, and it makes his or her client pay more for attorney’s fees.  It doesn’t pay to hire an attorney who is a jerk.

Daniel Fiskum is a Minnesota divorce attorney who has been practicing since 1992. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and has been named a "Super Lawyer" by the Minnesota Journal of Law and Politics. Mr. Fiskum is currently writing a book for attorneys and non-attorneys entitled "The Streetfighter's Guide to Divorce," which is scheduled for publication in May, 2010. Many of his blog entries will appear in the book. You may contact attorney Fiskum directly at (952) 270-7700. His office is located in the Carlson Towers in Minnetonka, Minnesota. The Fiskum Law website is found at www.fiskumlaw.com.

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