in legal settings: how to keep my cool when dealing with a liar?
March 26, 2012 10:41 AM   Subscribe

In legal settings: how to keep my cool when dealing with a liar?

I'm representing myself in a personal matter -

I'm being sued by a lawyer I had to fire for neglecting a personal injury claim. He's suing for percentage of the claim, EVEN though I'm doing all the work he was supposed to do. My former lawyer is misrepresenting facts, stooping at nothing AND he's doing it while I'm busy trying to save the claim he neglected.

The lying and manipulations, together with the suit itself, make me so angry, I have a hard time thinking straight. This not only happens in court , but even when writing pleadings at home. I get so mad, I have a hard time writing (which means I might even lose). And this is taking precious energy and time I desperately need, which makes me even angrier.

Any tips on how keep my calm? I'm even open to juvenile tactics if that's what it'll take to get over the feelings of anger, injustice and contempt (I'm not kidding. I thought a graphical voodoo doll would sooth my anger, but turns out I'm not good enough at graphics to get a decent picture to push tacks in...).
posted by ThiefOfSweets to Human Relations (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can understand the desire not to, but: hire a lawyer.
posted by roue at 10:45 AM on March 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

I'm guessing part of why he thinks he can get away with it is that he suspects he can get your goat, and no one listens to the angry guy. Keeping your cool is also the best way to spite him.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:48 AM on March 26, 2012

Have you contacted the bar association?
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:49 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

roue, I'd love to hire a lawyer, but the problem is that it isn't worth while for another lawyer to take it. There's no money in winning a suit like this. And lawyers don't like taking suits against other lawyers.
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 10:50 AM on March 26, 2012

1. Channel your anger into beating him. (But do not let your anger influence the tone of your pleadings.) Being a better professional than he is will also help you win your case.

2. This is uneven unless you hire a lawyer. However, there is one respect in which he is playing with fire -- you can contact the state bar association and file an ethics complaint. Consider whether you let him know that you intend to do that in advance, as it may cause him to reconsider whether he wishes to pursue this course.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:51 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I could not agree with roue more. You know the old saw about representing yourself? That's doubly true about representing yourself against a lawyer. Not being able to address the issues with detachment (and I totally understand why you can't, because they're your issues about an injury that was done to you) is a huge handicap in legal proceedings.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:52 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Faint of Butt, contacting the bar association is on my to-do list. I've put it off because I'm worried it will just add to the energy draining this guy is already doing to me.
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 10:53 AM on March 26, 2012

Also, wouldn't a new lawyer be interested in representing you in both this matter and your original claim? The myth that lawyers won't represent you against other lawyers is, I think, overstated.

However, if you've asked and that is the case in your community, how about hiring a paralegal to help you with drafting motions and pleadings?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:54 AM on March 26, 2012

If you can prove the lies, take it to the judge handling your case and ask that he be charged with perjury.

First, worry about winning your case. You can always argue about how to divide up the money after you win it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:56 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sidhedevil, I've sat with a few lawyers about my original claim. Sorrowfully, because of the state of neglect it was in and my SOB lawyer's suit, none of the good lawyers wanted the headache (sigh).
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 10:56 AM on March 26, 2012

JohnnyGunn, my problem is that he's intentionally suing me as I tend to my original case, because he knows it's bothering me (and his horrible tactics are working, because there have been moments when I considered giving in to his claim, just to get it out of my way).
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 10:59 AM on March 26, 2012

Faint of Butt, contacting the bar association is on my to-do list. I've put it off because I'm worried it will just add to the energy draining this guy is already doing to me.

You underestimate the power of a bar complaint. It'll be a major headache for him, and even more so if he has any previous complaints. It'll drain his energy a lot more than it'll drain yours.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:00 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

The bar where I live is very slow, beurocratic and somewhat political. My former lawyer is quite well connected and probably has friends there. I doubt I'll be seeing any fast action. I also don't have the time to draft a complaint (I have a lot to complain about :-().
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 11:04 AM on March 26, 2012

I like the idea of channeling the anger into your work. You might also look into mindfulness meditation. Feel the anger and acknowledge that it's valid, and mindfulness meditation can help you set it aside to focus on the important things.

In this case the important things are you, your case, your family, your dinner -- anything but him.
posted by ldthomps at 11:12 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

To address your actual question: Gerry Spence's book Win Your Case is about how to conduct yourself during stressful and antagonistic negotiation-type situations. When I was practicing, I made my clients read specific chapters prior to their depositions / taking the stand. In some cases, I've seen a physical change in their degree of anxiety after reading from it.

(Note: IIRC, Gerry sometimes waxes a bit panegyrical about lawyers and their capacity to work for good. If you have justified anger at lawyers and the legal system, I encourage you to take a FIAMO attitude to those sections, and take what helps you from the book. By the same token: if you find that you absolutely cannot be level-headed and composed when thinking about the legal system, you're absolutely not alone, but you really should hire a lawyer to be level-headed and composed for you.)
posted by gauche at 11:15 AM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry the "finding another lawyer" thing doesn't seem like an option in your area. Grr.

How about hiring a paralegal, though, just to have someone else on your team to toss around ideas with? If you're working on your pleadings and motions with someone else who has a more objective perspective, it might help you get to a calmer place about it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:17 AM on March 26, 2012

You've chosen to represent yourself so you are doing everything a person typically has a lawyer do for them.

I'm a little troubled by your question because "keeping your cool" is pretty much the easiest thing you have to do. It would be kind of like an amateur mechanic saying "I'm trying to fix this car, but I keep getting upset and throwing the wrench across the garage. Help me stop."

You've got too much to do, as your own lawyer, to allow yourself to lose your cool. Here's a list of some things to know and do:
(a) Keep cool under all circumstances. Losing your cool = losing your case.
(b) Skillfully turn the other side's deceptions against them. Know the rules of evidence forward and backward. Are the other side's misrepresentations actually admissible? Or is it just bullshit they've been throwing at you in the negotiation process? If its just negotiation bluster and deception, the court won't want to hear about it.
(c) Not be obnoxious/sarcastic/theatrical in representing your client. Judges hate that stuff.
(d) Understand your contract with your lawyer and be fully conversant with all the laws governing contract interpretation and canons of construction.
(e) understand how to present evidence, what an admission of party opponent is, understand parol evidence rule, understand principles of contract integration, understand the prevailing standards of lawyer competence in this kind of case (do you have an expert witness? Otherwise you may not be able to prove neglect), etc. etc. etc.
(f) understand burden of proof, civil standard of proof (preponderance of evidence), what a prima facie case is, how and why to make a motion for summary judgment, motion for judgment on the pleadings, etc.
(g) understand the different tools of discovery, what order to do them in, what are the advantages of them. What happens if a party fails to respond timely to requests for admission?

Chances are very high that your errors and your misunderstanding will result in you losing the case. GET A LAWYER IF YOU CAN FIND ONE!

The problem of keeping your cool is exactly why you need a lawyer to represent you.
posted by jayder at 11:23 AM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

It seems to me that you get angry because you expect him to act like a decent human being, but then he lies and manipulates. If you just accept (based on the evidence) that he's actually just a liar and a manipulator and start expecting him to act accordingly, maybe you won't get so mad when he lives up to your new expectations.
posted by callmejay at 11:24 AM on March 26, 2012

If you're in the US, filing a complaint with the Bar is probably easy-peasy and your concerns about him "having friends" in the state bar association are overblown. For instance, the complaint form in my jurisdiction is two pages if you fill it out by hand (downloadable pdf) and there's an option for just filling it out online. Other jurisdictions may vary, but I mention it because it's unclear to me whether you've really looked into this or have just presumed it's more work and trouble than it's worth.

The reason you should do it is because the bar takes these complaints seriously, and it will help you feel like you're taking positive action in a situation where you otherwise feel stressed out and helpless. Being a pro se defendant must be a nightmare.

Aside from the excellent advice of lodging a bar complaint, the only way I know to keep cool in these situations is to not take it personally. Just think of it as all business. It's not an attack on you, it's a problem that needs to be solved. That's admittedly difficult, but if you keep repeating to yourself that you're just trying to solve a problem you might give yourself a little more space to think clearly about this.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:25 AM on March 26, 2012

Yeah it kind of sounds like you're defeating yourself. Report him to the bar ASAP regardless of what your current perceptions about the process are, keep looking for a lawyer until you find one--even if that means sitting with 10 lawyers. Given the circumstances the best way to advocate for yourself is not to represent yourself, but fight for the best representation you can get.
posted by Kimberly at 11:30 AM on March 26, 2012

Try to imagine the words coming out of his mouth as soap bubbles you could easily pop.

And remember, judges know that people, including/especially lawyers? lie.

I had a workers comp case that dragged on many years ago. I remember at the end of one hearing, as I was walking out the door, hearing the other lawyer say emphatically, that my injury began when I was in high school almost ten years before and 400 miles away.

I'd never heard someone lie about me like that before. Just a complete and utter lie--and said so emphatically.

I understand why it's hard to maintain your composure. But maintaining it is your best response.

They're soap la la...
posted by vitabellosi at 11:37 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

MoonOrb and Kimberly, I'm not in the US, hence the difference in attitude to the Bar.

jayder, I love your advice and I wish I could follow it! I actually have a law degree and even practiced many years ago. The problem is my former lawyer filed his claim to a very basic and low court (not a small claims court though). The judges in these courts are not usually very professional, and the more exact I become, the less they'll understand me (sadly I hired my damn former lawyer because he isn't very exact, and he "spoke the same language" as used in this type of court).
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 11:43 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where are you located? I think most people answering your question have been assuming you were somewhere in the USA, but since you're not it would be helpful to know where you actually are as this is relevant in legal questions more often than not.
posted by Scientist at 11:52 AM on March 26, 2012

Write him some completely insane, over the top letters in which you stoop to the lowest blows you can possibly stoop to, call him all manner of names, take shots at his mother, his parenting, his psychological conditions, accuse him of anything you like. Then print them, set them on fire (or whatever), and go write the legal responses you're required to do as a sane and clear-thinking person.

And remember that a lot of times being coldly clinical is just about the best tactic you can take.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:57 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to create another layer in your mind. You're reacting to this horrid behavior of his because it's immoral and deceptive and designed to try to hinder your odds at success. But your angry reaction is a positive side-effect for him. When you start to get angry you need to remind yourself of this and use that as fuel against your anger. Living well is the best revenge and prevailing over a liar is the best antidote to untruth.

When you start to bristle remind yourself "this is what he wants" and visualize the positive results of NOT getting angry. Think of the relief you'll feel when you prevail and it's all behind you.

You might do well to find some write-ups from folks talking about smack-talk and psyching your opponent out in sports. Reading about overcoming that sort of thing - or hearing about how competitors do things to deliberately get their opponents worked up - might help you manage your own reactions.
posted by phearlez at 11:58 AM on March 26, 2012

Scientist, I don't expect legal advice, because I'm in a different system. I'm really looking for answers like vitabellosi's (which I love!), to deal with my anger. That's why I put the question under "human relations" and not under " law & government".
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 11:59 AM on March 26, 2012

It occurs to me that your real problem may be thinking you're entitled to something you aren't. I don't know the facts, but it's entirely possible that you're dissatisfied with something which is actually unobjectionable. Personal injury cases routinely take in excess of two years to conclude, so "neglect" is a somewhat squishy term in litigation. Further, what you may describe as a "lie" may simply be what the other guy has concluded from the evidence. You may know things he doesn't. He may know things you don't. And just because you think the facts say a certain thing doesn't mean that they do. Any lawyer worth his salt is going to be able to look at a single fact pattern and make an argument both for and against a particular outcome. So if there's one thing I have to say that does directly answer your question, it's to stop taking this so personally. Your opponent probably isn't.

Remember: in litigation, it doesn't matter which party has the truth on its side, it matters which party has the evidence on its side. If you think he's "lying," simply saying that he is won't change anything. You need evidence. If you don't have the evidence... maybe he isn't lying?

So you're not in the US? Well that's going to make a difference, to be sure. But I don't think it's going to make the kind of difference you think it makes. Know what? I guarantee you that the guy has friends in the local bar association. I also guarantee you that it won't make a lick of difference. My county has about 450 lawyers, so there's only maybe a few dozen in any single practice area. We basically all know each other, professionally if not personally. A few of the partners at my firm went to high school with guys we fight in court every day of the week. That's just what the law is about. And if you have a legitimate problem with this other lawyer, odds are decent that there's another lawyer in town who's had problems with him before. You just have to find that person.

Regardless of your jurisdiction, you need representation. Let me say it again: you need representation. You have been sued in a court of law, and the US is like other jurisdictions that permit parties to proceed pro se: you don't technically have to have a lawyer, but not having one is not going to get you any breaks in terms of procedure or proof. You are just as bound by the rules as he is, only he knows the rules and you don't.

In the US, this would be easy and obvious: you don't want a defense attorney, you want a plaintiff's attorney, one to sue this guy for malpractice. In the US, almost every single time a lawyer sues a client, the client counter-sues for malpractice. It just goes with the territory. And the damages for you aren't whatever piddly amount he's seeking in fees or what you have to spend to defend your case. It's what you could have won in your personal injury case if he'd done his damn job in the first place.

Again, not sure how that translates to whatever jurisdiction you happen to be in, but I concur with the other answers: the problem here is not "keeping your cool," it's "understanding civil procedure." You don't seem to, so you need to hire someone who does. End of story.

And remember that a lot of times being coldly clinical is just about the best tactic you can take.

As a matter of fact, it's just about the only litigation tactic that works. Sure, juries and clients may like a dog and pony show, but in motion practice and when talking to the judge, detachment and professionalism are absolutely essential. You can be as right as you want on the facts and even on the law, but if you lose your cool, it doesn't matter.
posted by valkyryn at 12:01 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

valkyryn, I can't sue for malpractice until my original case is over (to know the full extent of damage) and legal malpractice, especially in litigation is very hard to prove.
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 12:08 PM on March 26, 2012

I can't sue for malpractice until my original case is over (to know the full extent of damage)

Sure about that? Because I'm not.

and legal malpractice, especially in litigation is very hard to prove.

It is and it isn't. Harder than negligence in a auto accident case? Yes. But easier than, say, proving "undue hardship" that would let you discharge student loans in bankruptcy. Indeed, in many legal malpractice cases, the malpractice is the easy part to prove; damages can really be the tricky part.

Look: you're not a lawyer, at least not a practicing one. You aren't in any position to do an evaluation of your own case. So before you disregard that option, get a consultation with an attorney. The best and easiest way of dealing with your emotions here is to let someone else deal with this.
posted by valkyryn at 12:16 PM on March 26, 2012

I know you're not looking for legal advice, but people are definitely going to be giving it (as they have been since the very first comment) and it would maybe be helpful to you if that advice could at least be relevant. On the flipside, if people know that you live somewhere that is totally outside of their legal experience, maybe they will simply opt not to give legal advice, which would help filter out the types of responses you are getting and narrow them down to only the sorts of responses you want.
posted by Scientist at 12:16 PM on March 26, 2012

roue, I'd love to hire a lawyer, but the problem is that it isn't worth while for another lawyer to take it. There's no money in winning a suit like this. And lawyers don't like taking suits against other lawyers.

If there was no money in it, he wouldn't be suing you. So yes, there is money in it. Get a lawyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:34 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

asking this has calmed me down (at least momentarily). Thanks for all the answers!
posted by ThiefOfSweets at 12:38 PM on March 26, 2012

I know only too well where you're coming from. Here's what works for me.

First, I visualize the court as a place from a book. Have you read any Saramago? Some of his characters are trapped in heartless bureaucracies where nothing changes as eons pass, where the written word is all that matters. When I go to court, I imagine that. That way, I don't expect anything to progress at all, so I don't get upset when the judge gives the other person some long extension.

Next, your opponent. callmejay suggests above that you just expect craziness from him. Great advice, works well for me. Create caricatures of everyone, give them nicknames, and learn how those characters act. "Maybe X will do ABC." "X? X is The Robot, remember?" Most of the characters in my story have a special voice. Also, when they say something that appalls me, I pretty quickly turn that into a joke with a friend. So now a lot of the characters have tag lines, one of their past statements said in a certain voice. It helps to talk about this a lot.

I find writing actual documents soothing because I imagine someone rational reading and me winning. If you think this court will inevitably take his side, maybe that's why it's so upsetting? I'd be really angry if I imagined losing while writing the documents. Hope you find an approach you think will work as you move forward. Lots of sympathy to you.
posted by slidell at 4:56 PM on March 26, 2012

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