Choosing Wise Over Nice

Last Friday, I had a hearing in a case where the opposing attorney has been less than honest with me.

At first, I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but after more than a year of his broken promises I have a better view of the amount of credibility he deserves, which is little or none.

So, we finish the hearing, and when we get out in the hall he suggests we get together the following week so we (my associate or I) can explain to him how we are coming up with the amount of money we claim his client owes our client.

Usually, such requests are a prelude to an attempt at settlement, but I know he has no intention of settling the case, or even he did, by this time he has forced us to incur so much in attorney’s fees his client will not pay what it will cost to settle the case. I also know we’ve given him enough information for him to know his client owes our client money, which means what he really wants is for us to give him information about our client’s claims so he can be better prepared at trial.

Fifteen years ago, as a young attorney, I would have opted for nice and agreed just in case he was telling the truth. Instead, a certain proverb came to mind: Proverbs 26:4-5.

So, I ask, “Toward what end? Are you suggesting the case might settle if we convince you your client owes us our client money?”

He says, “Yes.”

I say, “If you had had this discussion a year ago, I might have agreed. As it is, at this point, we have $50,000 in attorney’s fees in the case and will probably have $100,000 by the time it gets to trial.” I then tell him what he is suggesting is a waste of time.

He says, “My experience is that juries don’t award that much in attorney’s fees when the claim for damages is small.”

Now, I’m pretty sure he hasn’t teed it up in front of a jury too many times, maybe never, and that he is trying to BS me like he has in the past. So I ask, with just a hint of sarcasm, “Oh really, you’ve had that experience?”

Proverbs 26:4-5 says if you answer a fool as if you don’t recognize he’s a fool, he will go away thinking you are the fool. To do that means sometimes you have to choose being wise over being nice.  GS