It is not uncommon for plaintiff and defense lawyers to know each other, especially in smaller cities. Sometimes these lawyers will even be friends. So, should you worry if your lawyer is friends with, or friendly with, opposing counsel? In my experience the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” In fact, your case may be resolved more quickly and fairly if your lawyer is on good terms with opposing counsel.
The Myth of the Asshole Lawyer
Don’t let the paragraph title fool you. I am by no means saying that asshole lawyers are mythical. The myth that I am referring to is that a lawyer who acts like an asshole towards opposing counsel is fighting harder for you and acting in your best interests. More often than not, this is far from the case. Television has helped foster the false positive image of the asshole lawyer — lawyers who get their kicks out of being deceptive and obnoxious towards opposing counsel, sometimes to the point of violating rules of ethics. Clients seem to like the idea that while their lawyer is an asshole, at least he’s on my side. Lawyers who treat opposing counsel with respect and professional courtesy are seen as wimps.
In real life, having an asshole for a lawyer can be very damaging to your case. At best, he will make your case more stressful and antagonistic. At worst, he will make your case drag out longer over arguments which should have been amicably resolved, and may even force you into a trial where one could have been avoided. A lawyer who has a good working relationship with opposing counsel, even one who is friends with opposing counsel, is far more desirable.
Opposing Counsel as Friends — How Can This Be a Good Thing?
Lawyers are by nature not very trusting people. We have been lied to so often by so many other lawyers, witnesses and even our own clients that it becomes very difficult to take anything at face value. When your lawyer does not trust opposing counsel, your case can be slowed down considerably or even grinded to a halt as the two sides argue over minutiae that ultimately will have little effect on the outcome of your case. When your lawyer is expecting foul play from the other side, he may be forced to file motions for protective orders (orders which limit discovery) or take other precautions that will add months to your case. Settlement negotiations drag out, as neither side feels safe discussing the real merits and flaws of the case in a candid manner that promotes a fair resolution. You are far more likely to needlessly take a case to trial against an attorney you don’t trust than one you do.
When opposing counsel have successfully worked with each other in the past, or have gotten to know each other outside the context of litigation (in a social setting), they can focus on what really matters in your case without having to worry about petty bickering or gamesmanship. Settlement negotiations are more honest, which is more likely to produce a fair resolution to the case. Communications between the lawyers and the court are limited to things relevant to your case, not pointless ad hominem attacks on opposing counsel. Disputes can often (not always) be resolved without requiring judicial intervention. This can save you months of time waiting for motions to be heard and ruled upon by the court.
By way of analogy, think of two friends playing a video game. They still play as hard as they can and try to beat each other, but they don’t cheat and try to grab the controller out of their friend’s hand or unpause the game as their friend uses the bathroom.
Being friends with opposing counsel doesn’t mean your lawyer isn’t fighting as hard as he can for you. In fact, I would argue that your lawyer would be especially diligent against a friend, because if he loses your case he will hear about it from his friend for a long time.