I’ve been spreading myself a little thin over the last few weeks – trying to keep with up daily videos, work, family, a new puppy… And poo. Poo everywhere. Under couches. Under beds. Discretely camouflaged in dark-colored carpets. Puppy poo. Baby poo. Occasionally adult poo (don’t ask). I have been working on a substantive life update / retrospective, but can’t seem to put it together within the timeframe I set for myself. So at the risk of the perfect being the enemy of the good, I’m going to post a random thought I had yesterday, which itself is one of the most meaningful lessons I have drawn from my legal practice.
One of the biggest mistakes I saw so many lawyers consistently make (and one which I too was guilty of in the early years of my career) is thinking they will score points with the judge by demonizing opposing counsel at a hearing. I have seen lawyers accuse other lawyers of withholding information, lying to opposing counsel, forgery, faking illness, and playing all sorts of dirty tricks. And the reality is that the indecent acts may very well have occurred, but come hearing time, a judge simply does not care about all the dirty laundry between counsel. The judge is there to deal only with the merits of the case, and unless the chicanery has to deal with the merits or substantive questions of fact and law, they will simply not be interested – regardless of how salacious the details.
This is how people need to deal with other people on a daily basis – in life, in business, in politics. Very rarely does demonizing the person result in any meaningful progress – even if it is all true. It’s easy to fight, to harp over every wrong a person has caused to another, to call names and to perpetuate the cycle of virtual, metaphoric, verbal, and sometimes even physical violence. But it doesn’t build anything constructive. Complaining about how dangerous a broken staircase is and how many times you have fallen on them isn’t half as effective as putting up a sign, fixing the staircase, or simply avoiding that staircase altogether.
Now this analogy fails because people aren’t staircases. They can’t be “fixed”, and it is sometimes impossible to avoid them. And while some lawyers (and people in general) should come with warning signs, rarely is anything to be gained by fighting with them. Even less is to be gained by thinking other people are interested in hearing about all the wrongs they may have committed against you. You won’t score points with the judge unless the details are relevant to the case. You won’t score points with third-parties unless the wrongs are “need to know” (or the person is just generally into gossip). But in general, I am weary of people who too readily speak ill of others. I always take for granted that it will only be a matter of time before they find a reason to speak ill of me to someone else.
Now where was I going with this? I forget… And I think the pup just left me a present under the kitchen table.