Attorneys make spectacular litigants | Above the regulation
Over my decade in litigation, I have seen all types of litigation and litigating parties. In fact, I have had many ordinary lawsuits handled by the usual law firm cast I am accustomed to in the courthouses where I practice. I have also been involved in some legal disputes involving non-attorney plaintiffs, which was extremely interesting to deal with. However, the trials that I really love to grab the popcorn for and sit back to watch the tactics and passion of the parties involved are those in which one or more litigants are themselves lawyers. In my experience, lawyers are impressive parties to litigation for a number of reasons.
Perhaps most obvious is that lawyers are discouraging litigants because they know the law better than other litigants. Lawyers are usually unable to control the actions of their clients, especially before the lawyer has been hired to deal with a particular matter. However, if attorneys are parties to litigation themselves, they can take appropriate steps both before and after filing a lawsuit to ensure they have the greatest chance of a positive outcome.
For example, I once had a colleague who broke a tooth after biting into a meat pie or other food that contained a piece of bone. This lawyer had to pay a pretty penny to get the tooth repaired, so he decided to sue the restaurant that sold him the meat pie. The restaurant sued the butcher and the butcher sued the meat dealer, I remember, which resulted in a pretty violent lawsuit over a meat pie! In any case, my former colleague knew about expropriation, a legal doctrine that states that parties who destroy evidence can be sanctioned.
Not wanting to be accused of expropriation, this attorney and former colleague of mine collected the rest of the meat pie that was causing his broken teeth and put it in his freezer. The dispute took years to settle, and my former colleague dutifully carried the frozen food leftovers into each new apartment when he moved. The story of how he kept his meat pie, as well as his harsh litigation techniques, eventually led to a favorable outcome, and a non-lawyer would never have thought of keeping the remaining meat pie for evidence.
Lawyers are also formidable litigants as they can sometimes avoid litigation costs by performing litigation tasks themselves. Typically, when a person or company is involved in a legal dispute, they must pay a significant amount of legal fees. The amount of legal fees clients may have to pay can affect settlement decisions and other strategies that are followed throughout the litigation.
Of course, everyone involved in the process has to pay for expenses such as registration fees, filing costs and other expenses. Some attorneys who have no litigation experience may need to hire an experienced litigator to handle their lawsuit. However, lawyers who are experienced in litigation can usually easily conduct the process themselves. As a result, they can continue a lawsuit without hurting their “war chest” and that could make them less willing to come to an early agreement to cut costs.
Self-Representing Lawyers are also much more likely to be passionate about litigation and ensure that every advantage is taken in a case. In the legal industry, as in other professions, there can be inefficiencies in the provision of legal services by attorneys. Some lawyers take a 9 to 5 approach to someone else’s lawsuit and may not put extra energy on representation. In addition, law firms often have inefficiencies in the distribution and execution of work, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and other negative outcomes for a representation.
However, self-advocates are far less likely to allow the 9 to 5 pace or other inefficiencies to hinder their best work on a case. Indeed, of course, people are more willing to give anything to a project if they have a legitimate interest in it, and lawyers who are litigants have skin in any litigation in which they are named. Some of the best legal work I’ve ever seen involved attorneys representing themselves, probably because they didn’t get in the way of budgets, billable hourly caps, and other administrative hurdles to do extraordinary work. The intangible passion that lawyers bring to their work when they are litigants themselves cannot be underestimated, and is a major reason lawyers are formidable litigants.
In any case, I’d love to hear all of the stories readers have about Pro-Se lawyers doing solid legal work on cases where they are a named party. Lawyers have more skin in the game when they represent themselves, and this leads to impressive and sometimes entertaining results.
Jordan Rothman is a partner at The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service law firm based in New York and New Jersey. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website that discusses how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan by email at email@example.com.