Anger Management


By all accounts, the plaintiff lawyer had managed to alienate everyone in the courtroom. We weren't involved with the case, but we heard that the plaintiff lawyer was up to his usual tricks. When he wasn't clumsily belligerent, he exuded smarminess. He persistently violated court orders. His antics invited incessant sidebars and stretched what should have been a three week trial into nine weeks. Outside the jury's presence, and even sometimes with the jury present, the judge vented judicial wrath. We know that the defense lawyers were appalled by their opponent's mendacity. From facial expressions, it looked like the jurors found the guy annoying. The court staff smirked. Surely, this had to turn out well for the defense, right?

Wrong. At the beginning of closing argument, the plaintiff lawyer profusely thanked the jury for their service, with the same ham-handed analogy to military service he makes in every case. And then he apologized. He said that he knew the jury probably disliked him for a lot of his tactics. But those tactics were animated by a passion for his client who had been grievously wronged and had suffered terribly. The plaintiff lawyer acknowledged that the jury had plenty of reason to be angry with him, but he begged them not to take such anger out on his innocent client.

Oh-oh. This sounded like it might actually work. An eight-digit verdict later, it was clear that it had.

The following week, we had lunch with an in-house lawyer. She was from a different company and, like us, had nothing to do with the case alluded to above. But she had followed it with interest. Moreover, she once had a case against the same plaintiff lawyer, who had operated from the selfsame playbook. Everything was the same: same disregard for the judge's orders, same rearguments on points lost, same palpable insincerity, and same guy you couldn't trust as far as you can throw a Sumo wrestler. But that case settled after closing arguments. And the jury was happy to talk with the lawyers. It turned out that they really did think the plaintiff lawyer was a buffoon. He ticked them off big time. But they were also thinking about giving him a big time verdict. So did that jury anger toward the plaintiff lawyer mean anything? Or do plaintiff lawyers get a free pass?

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Dechert LLP on:

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