I love to try cases. Delivering argument, picking a jury, examining witnesses… I love it. But the vast VAST majority of my clients’ cases do not go to trial. They get worked out. Negotiated. Compromised. Settled.
I tell my clients that my job is to negotiate the best possible outcomes to give them choices. Then they choose: settle, continue negotiating, or have a trial. Most cases settle. So how do we get to that point? A lot goes into criminal and civil settlement negotiations. Analysis and discussion of strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case is certainly at the top of the list. Sometimes discussion of the finer points of the applicable law comes in, as well. Justice and fairness play a role. So does the relationship between the attorneys.
No one should expect that their attorney’s cordial relationship with the opposing attorney will be the one determining factor in the outcome of the case. In most cases, that would be unethical. The attorneys I deal with every day are highly skilled, ethical professionals. But they are also human, and that can mean that when there is a close call between giving in and standing their ground, and good arguments can be made for either decision, having a good relationship with them matters.
Now, I also try to maintain good relationships with people because I’m called to treat others the way I want to be treated, but there is a pragmatic side to it, too. Some folks want to see their lawyer as the vicious attack dog who gives no quarter and really takes it to the other side, and that kind of lawyer can have a scorched-earth mindset that makes — and takes — things too personally. In my experience, those are the lawyers that when push comes to shove the other side would just as soon not give them the satisfaction. Cordial relationships keep the lines of communication open, keep the other side thinking nice thoughts, and more often than not results in better offers.
So if you see me smiling and engaging in light-hearted discussion with the “other side,” just know it’s partially for your benefit.