A few years ago, we had a case involving lawyers from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. We knew the Florida lawyers, who brought us into the case. The California lawyers were unknown to us; they were with a huge firm with a strong reputation. Our primary contact there was a Sr. Associate, but not the lead lawyer. Often, this is a sign of trouble and it was in this case. But, what prompts this post is how that Sr. Associate bullied us for unknown reasons. The result is a lesson, however painful for us, of how not to interact with others, especially those from whom you want assistance. That is, how not to win friends and influence people! This Sr. Associate was a young woman who must have had some skills that led to her being hired by the big firm. She did not, however, have people skills. I don’t think she ever will. Specifically, over the course of our engagement with her, and the trial team, she seemed to find, or maybe seek, ways to be insulting. She once called me and left a message. I returned her call within a couple of hours when I finished meeting with a client. She told me “All of you people in Florida are slow responding. I had trouble with a court reporter today too…” On another occasion when she called about 7:00 p.m. EST, she again got my voice mail, because, guess what, I had left the office that day, to go to a dinner meeting of a legal support association. In her message she said, “I don’t know why I can’t reach you – we work 24/7 for our clients in California…” Really? I bet she does great work when called at 2:00, 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. But, I digress. My point is, when we’re working for a client, we’re a part of the team and we are as responsive as possible. The reality is that we are working with more than 1 client at a time; or at least we hope so! And, we’re working long hours. (Seems like 24/7 because I wake up thinking about work at odd hours.) I would not interrupt a call or meeting with this attorney to speak with another client; for her to expect me to do so for her demonstrates her sense of self importance is out of alignment with reality. And, rather than fostering a positive working relationship, she made it toxic. I later learned that part of the pressure she was under was that her “big boss” was extremely busy, was not focused on the case at hand because he was distracted by another case, and she was in way over her head trying to prepare for the mock trial. She acted like those who take out their frustrations by kicking the dog. Unwilling to be her kicking dog, I continued to work with her to ensure that we did our job professionally even if she couldn’t control her tantrums. Ultimately, there seemed to be more to her insecurities than she demonstrated to us – within in a year she was up for partner promotion and she didn’t make the cut. Bottom line, don’t treat your experts, your consultants, your landscaper, or anyone else disrespectfully if you don’t want to get bitten one day. Writing this the day of the death of the Queen of Soul, Aretha, everyone should be reminded R-E-S-P-E-C-T goes a long way.
Otis Redding wrote “Respect” in 1965. When sung by Otis Redding, the song was about a man who is willing to work hard all day, as long as he receives respect from his woman when he gets home. Aretha Franklin’s cover of “Respect,” released in 1967, has a different tone. Instead of begging for her man’s respect, she demands it. Ms. Franklin’s version of the song later took on a more global meaning in the civil rights era, ultimately becoming an anthem for all of us who have been disrespected by someone else, due to our gender, the color of our skin, or other characteristics. Although I have been disrespected, harassed, and treated unkindly by many people, including Magnus’ clients (thankfully, only on rare occasions), the level of disrespect shown to my staff and me by the client to whom David refers was one of the worst parts of my career. This young, snippy, snobbish twit dared to belittle David, the hard working Magnus staff, and me, all because she believed we were idiots, merely because we live and work in Florida. How dare she! I am a 4th generation Floridian and I will guarantee this: If anyone, regardless of who they are and where they are from, ever belittles me because I am from Florida, or denigrates my home state because “there are so many transients,” “people who live in Florida are on a permanent vacation,” or any one of a number of similar insults, I will fight back. Count on it. By the time this client’s research day came around, my staff and I had suffered considerable abuse from this woman. I decided to use all of my good natured Florida charm to channel the late, great Minnie Pearl, of Grand Ol’ Opry fame, when greeting this client and the other snobbish attorneys from California. Much to the chagrin of the Florida attorneys who were present, I shook the hands of the mean and nasty California lawyers while smilingly hollering, “How-w-w-DEE-E-E-E! I’m jest so proud to be heah!” I continued to have fun when it was time to order lunch, asking the servers if they had my favorite fish, fried mullet, on the menu and saying, “Well, golly, gee, I sure wish I could eat me a mess of them, there mullet.” I performed each and every aspect of my job with as much excellence and professionalism as always, however, with a distinctly Florida Cracker accent. As it turned out, the California lawyers were some of the most ill prepared incompetent attorneys I have ever met. It seems as if their disrespect toward “us dummies from Florida” should have been directed the other way, toward themselves. Word to the wise: Disrespecting people doesn’t make you better than them; it only proves you are undeserving of their respect. (As an aside, Minnie Pearl was the stage name of Sarah Colley. She was born into a wealthy family, had a college education, and lived until her death, in 1996, in a mansion next door to the Tennessee Governor’s mansion. She was one of the most successful comedians of her generation. And, fried mullet, is, indeed, my favorite fish.)