Be Nice To Jerks

Lawyers tend to be negative people.

They deal with other people’s problems all day. They are trained to see what can go wrong in any case or problem. Being able to spot issues is important. Certainly a good lawyer will spot more issues than a bad one. But this ability to spot issues can have a very detrimental impact on a person’s health.

The mind’s natural response to spotting issues is to worry. In many instances, the fight or flight response will be activated. The consequence is that the person loses sleep, eats too much, has elevated blood pressure, drinks, or otherwise engages in damaging habits.

Another reason why lawyers can be negative people is because they have to deal with other lawyers. Lawyers on the whole do not have the best social reputations. They are known as combative, argumentative jerks by the general population. The large collection of lawyer jokes reflects this.

There is a great deal of literature on how to handle the overall stress of the job. Staying healthy, keeping a positive mindset, meditating, and even therapy have all been recommended to help lawyer’s mental health. I would recommend all of these habits.

This post, however, deals with the second problem. Lawyers are often jerks.

When a person deals with a jerk, the natural reaction is to respond in kind. I hear a lot of people say, “I am a nice person. But if you are a jerk to me, then I will be a jerk right back.”

This, however, should not be the response. I believe that every level of “jerkiness” should be responded to with an equal level of “niceness.”

Here is what happens when you respond to a jerk in kind. First, you temporarily feel great. You “really showed them.” You tell your colleagues and they say, “Great Job!” You are the office hero.

But that feeling is fleeting. You are then back to dealing with the jerk. He likely responds by being a jerk again (maybe an even bigger one). You then respond in kind again. The cycle continues. The case is completely misery. You go home angry. You dread every email and phone call you receive regarding the case. You lose sleep thinking about how you are going to deal with the jerk.

I would argue your client isn’t well served in this scenario. You have also contributed to the downward spiral of legal incivility. No one wins.

You could respond in the completely opposite way. When the lawyer is a jerk, you could respond by being nice. You assert your position and why you believe it is best, but you do so in a professional and kind manner. You don’t yell. You don’t become disrespectful. When he asks for a continuance (two weeks after he objected to yours) you consent so long as the court would probably grant it and it doesn’t harm your client. When he has to move a deposition, you help accommodate him.

The jerk will probably react by being an even bigger jerk the next time you meet. But you respond by being even nicer. And so on, and so on.

In this situation, one of two things will occur. First, the other person may actually soften up. He is a person after all; maybe he will begin to see what a nice person you are. He may begin to rationally respond by being nice right back.

His other response could be to become even more disrespectful. You are killing him with kindness and he is fighting every step of the way. If that happens: So what! You are a nice happy person and his problems are his problems. Others will notice the good person you are while the jerk’s behavior will be highlighted. Judges, other lawyers, jurors, clients, and others will all see this. Your reputation will precede you wherever you go. So will his.

Being the nice person has two other positive effects. First, you are not contributing to the downward spiral. You are an example of what is good in your profession.

Also, your own mental health improves. Positive people are happier and healthier. You may have heard the phrase, “Happiness is a choice.” It is.

That doesn’t mean you should be a pushover. A lawyer wouldn’t be serving his client’s well if he were. And no one deserves to be run over; so don’t let that happen. But being nice has nothing to do with being a pushover. You can assert your (or your client’s) rights while at the same time being courteous and gracious.

Originally published at

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