David and I have attended hundreds of meetings with attorneys and their clients in the decades we have owned and operated Magnus Research Consultants. Usually, these meetings are non eventful. Their purpose is often to explain to the end client (the person involved in the lawsuit) the advantages of retaining a litigation consultant to assist his/her attorney on the case. Sometimes, we have to do a “dog and pony show” to impress certain types of clients that we are more qualified, educated, etc. than our competitors, but even then, these types of meetings are usually rather mundane. As with many things, there are always exceptions to the rule. In addition, just when I think I’ve seen it all, or I’ve “been there and done that,” something odd, strange, and curious happens that takes me by surprise. Recently, David and I were asked by a long time client (of almost 30 years) to participate in a meeting with him, his client, and his client’s brother (who, as it turns out, is funding the litigation on behalf of his brother), for the purpose of explaining what we can do to help them on an intriguing case. The attorney and his client have been friends for decades, however, this meeting was the first time the attorney had ever met the client’s brother. Things appeared, at least to me, to be going well and as expected when, all of a sudden, the client’s brother began screaming and cursing at the attorney, telling him he was not doing anything to help his brother; threatening to fire him and hire another attorney; and in general, denigrating the attorney in many, highly inappropriate, ways. I turned to David and asked whether we should leave, but we decided to stay in case things became violent and we needed to protect our client (who also happens to be a friend of ours). What was fascinating to observe was the attorney’s reaction to all of the verbal abuse that was being directed at him. Instead of a “right back at you” attitude, the attorney maintained a calm, quiet, and respectful demeanor. The more the increasingly out of control the other man became, the calmer and quieter the attorney became. It was an amazing display of professionalism, decorum, and extinction of aggression. After what seemed like an eternity, the rude screamer calmed down and the meeting continued, although in a more subdued manner than before. Eventually, the client’s brother apologized to the attorney, as well as to David and me, for his emotional and inappropriate attacks on the attorney, saying he is angry at everyone because of what happened to his brother, but had no right to take out his anger on the attorney. David and I have discussed this situation since then, in terms of how most people would have responded by fighting fire with fire, which would have had the effect of escalating a bad situation, thereby making it much worse. The attorney’s amazing ability to de-escalate the situation has earned him a new place on my list of great people and has taught me a thing or two about dealing with mean and nasty people. One never knows what one will learn by listening and observing what is happening around us.
Litigation is stressful! Having been there ourselves, Melissa and I know about the stress, the lost sleep, the lost focus on “real work,” and the time required to be an active participant in one’s case. I get it. I also know the costs of sticking one’s neck out – even if one must do it for self preservation. It draws personal attacks – think depositions. And, defending oneself or being on the offensive when one has been “done wrong” is not easy, or pain free. It is with these experiences that I communicate with attorneys, and occasionally, with their clients. Thus, it is not uncommon for meetings to have an emotional component – especially when injuries are involved (perhaps less so when it is only about money as in some commercial cases, though there are usually emotions involved in those as well). The meeting yesterday was moving along just fine, including many of the usual questions about our qualifications and procedures. We have a mental list of frequently asked questions and we know that many of them will come up – and they did. But, when the meeting deteriorated and the emotional part flared and raised its ugly head, our jaws dropped (figuratively – we tried not to show much reaction). Our attorney friend/client was shocked, to say the least, but he didn’t show it either. As the individual raised his voice, the attorney dropped his. As the individual demanded answers and repeated answers to the same questions, the attorney repeated his answers without variation to avoid arguing. The tirade went on for a seemingly long time, but, in reality, it was probably less than 10 minutes. The attorney’s tactics prevailed and the individual apologized and backed down thereby enabling the attorney to address the issues in a logical fashion. It was a fascinating experience to observe – even with the uncomfortable stresses it created. Clearly, Melissa and I, and the attorney, will have to be on our toes around this volatile person, but enough was said after the conflagration that he came to understand that everyone has his or rather, his brother’s, best interest at heart. Handling a personal attack is never pleasant, but the outcome of the entire situation rides on whether the response to the attack is direct or more thoughtful and strategic. Direct responses, such as burning bridges, are rarely an optimal first response. Better to figure out how best to defuse the situation and find a path forward.