It was an intimidating scenario for a young lawyer. Representing the sole plaintiff in a multi-millionaire dollar lawsuit, I attended my client’s discovery anticipating a bombardment of questions from four defendants’ lawyers, some with more experience lawyering than I had years of life. Deep into a long day, one of the lawyers asked a question I refused. “On what grounds?”, the lawyer asked angrily. “Irrelevant”, I said. Then the other three lawyers chimed in indignantly, “It’s clearly relevant!”, “You’re out of your depth!”, and, to each other, for my benefit, “He’s a young lawyer.”
I was shook, but I had not fallen off my chair. I had gotten what I wanted – the question refused – and everything else was theatre. As my client looked at me, I paused significantly, sitting still, eyes down on my notes, until silence took the room – a trick I learned from a mentor, a senior lawyer whose reputation soared far above my plebeian dreams. And looking up, I said simply, “The question is refused. What is your next question?” The angry lawyer recovered, everyone’s reputation unblemished, and the discovery proceeded routinely, insofar as a discovery with five lawyers can be routine.
Standing strong does not necessarily mean fighting fire with fire, an eye for an eye. When professional conduct begins to deteriorate, remember it takes two to tangle. Refuse to wrestle in the mud – having done what you can with the legal tools available, reacting with grace can be as simple as sitting quietly.