Advertisement
retirement

What to Do If You Bump Heads with a Bully of a Lawyer

If you're a witness, a defendant or a junior attorney in a law firm and the lawyer you are working with is a combative bully, how should you handle the situation?

We hear a lot about bullying: at school, and cyber-bullying over the internet.

But bullying — any use of force, coercion or threat that is intended to intimidate — isn’t just confined to the playground. The adult world has its share of bullies, too. “Especially lawyers, who can be very good at being very bad,” according to the nation’s leading expert on bullying in the legal profession, Philadelphia attorney Fran Griesing.

Advertisement - Article continues below

In a moment I’ll tell you about “Jamie,” a reader who had a ringside seat to the antics of a lawyer with a Ph.D. in bullying, but first, this question:

“Is bullying by lawyers something new, or has it always been that way, and if not, then what’s the reason for so much more bullying today?”

Perry Mason, We Need You!

“There has always been a certain amount of lawyer bullying — it goes with the territory — but there is much more today than in the past. Our courts frequently comment on the breakdown of civility in the legal profession, citing the way media portrays lawyers — especially trial lawyers — as sleazy and aggressive, giving the impression that is how we are expected to act,” Griesing points out.

“Just compare today’s open hostility to each other and clients to Perry Mason, who was a gentleman. Lawyers in the ’40s ’50s and ’60s were far more civil, far more respectful of each other than we see today. So, when your image of a lawyer comes from TV or the movies and then you attend law school, no one should be surprised at the uptick in aggressive behavior,” she maintains.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

There has also been a decline in mentoring by senior attorneys, something that Griesing has noticed since becoming a lawyer in 1982.

“Then a lot of time was spent working with more senior lawyers who gave feedback and who I got to observe. A lawyer’s first job was an apprenticeship. You worked 12 hours a day, six days a week and you learned how to practice law.

“Understandably, clients today are extremely fee conscious. Business has become very bottom-line oriented, and there is less time — or money — for junior lawyers to follow senior attorneys around and learn how to practice law.

“Just tune in to any television or radio talk show and instead of people listening to each other and calmly addressing the issues, voices are raised, and it becomes, ‘Who can talk the loudest?’

“We see the same thing in court, on the job — inside of law firms — and during depositions, where yelling replaces civility.”

Research the Lawyer – What Do Others Say?

When it comes to reducing the chances of bumping heads with a bully lawyer — especially a bully employer for your first job as an attorney — the internet is your best friend.

Advertisement - Article continues below

“Either when looking to hire an attorney, going to work for a law firm, or testifying in court or at a deposition, your best chances of avoiding a bully, or of expecting one and being prepared to respond, is to do your homework. Research the lawyer. What do others say? Have they been disciplined by their State Bar Association for a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct?

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Our reader discovered lawyer bullying as a witness to an auto accident, while having her deposition taken.

“Along with several witnesses, I saw the defendant’s car run the red. But the lawyer for the driver’s insurance company kept on asking the same questions over and over again in a hostile tone of voice, even yelling, making me so upset to the point of tears. He treated all the adverse witnesses that way. And, Mr. Beaver, the attorney representing the innocent driver just sat there, saying nothing! She had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look.

Advertisement - Article continues below

“I learned that she has just graduated law school and was sent to handle the deposition. I felt like standing up and saying on the record, ‘Why is Miss Jones just sitting there, saying nothing when counsel is so aggressive and hostile to me, and I am just a witness?’”

What Can You Do?

If you are in court on the witness stand and opposing counsel is asking you the same question over and over again, and your lawyer is just sitting there, saying nothing, Griesing recommends that you say, “Excuse me, Your Honor, I have answered that question three times and am feeling harassed.”

Griesing concluded our discussion with these comments:

“Bullying in the law is now getting attention. It impacts clients, lawyers at their offices, and professional relations among adversaries. The proliferation of scathing and unacceptable emails is alarming, but more and more courts and disciplinary boards are imposing sanctions and discipline as a consequence of lawyers acting badly.”

About the Author

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.

Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge.
Advertisement

Most Popular

HSAs Get Even Better
Financial Planning

HSAs Get Even Better

Workers have more options with flexible spending accounts, too.
July 2, 2020
Find a Great Place to Retire
happy retirement

Find a Great Place to Retire

Our cities provide plenty of space to spread out without skimping on health care or other amenities.
July 2, 2020
What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2020 vs. 2019?
tax brackets

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2020 vs. 2019?

The IRS unveiled the 2020 tax brackets, and it's never too early to start planning to minimize your future tax bill.
June 20, 2020

Recommended

For Financially Responsible Kids, Do NOT Do These 3 Things
family savings

For Financially Responsible Kids, Do NOT Do These 3 Things

The key to putting your kids on the right financial path can be boiled down into one sentence.
July 1, 2020
10 Tax Breaks for the Middle Class
tax deductions

10 Tax Breaks for the Middle Class

Tax breaks aren't just for the rich. There are plenty of them that are only available to middle- and low-income Americans.
June 30, 2020
The Answers to More RMD Questions
retirement

The Answers to More RMD Questions

The CARES Act made 2020 required minimum distributions optional. But what are your next moves?
June 12, 2020
Travel Planning in the Time of Coronavirus
business

Travel Planning in the Time of Coronavirus

Insurance may not cover canceled vacations, but airlines and hotels may be flexible.
June 11, 2020