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A thread to vent toxicity about litigation (or law generally) when you've had a bad day


TheBadLawyer
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TheBadLawyer
  • Lawyer

I have nothing constructive to say right now nor am I looking for anything positive or uplifting. Sometimes you just gotta indulge in some self-pity for a bit, especially when you're a chronic depressive who would likely be unhappy no matter what job you switched to. 

There are days I love my job. Like when I fight for and get a good result for a client, the rare occasion when a client shows genuine appreciation...but by and large, I feel like law is sapping my life force, like each year I look like more of a desiccated husk. I'm sick of judges, sick of clients, sick of Crowns. 

Blah.

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In my last job, I did mostly litigation. It was employment law, so it was mediations, arbitrations, human rights tribunal stuff, and lots of stupid arguments about documents and undertakings. I did it for five year (after five at a big firm) and I was starting to feel the same way about spending my life fighting with people over stuff that you know will never amount to anything more than driving an eventual settlement up or down a little bit. I have no doubt that the dynamic and level of personal stress is higher when someone could be going to jail rather than getting a slightly bigger or smaller settlement of their case.

In my current job, I still manage a lot of litigation, and I still spend a lot of my time telling other people whether or not to fight those stupid motions, and deciding whether it's worth it to fight them based on how they may affect a potential settlement. I like it enough, it pays the bills, it is pretty cushy, and it is generally less stressful on a day-to-day basis than when I was actually litigating. And I have a little kid and don't want to make any big moves right now. But I do think that I would like to try something that doesn't involve fighting with people all the time (admitting that a lot of times, the fight is actually just trying to constructively resolve a good faith dispute between two parties).

Anyways, all this is to say that I struggle with this too. DM if you want to chat further.

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Aureliuse
  • Lawyer

Consider taking a vacation MANDATORY especially if you litigate A LOT. It is exhausting to put in all the hard work, prepped annoying witnesses, skipped weekends, and pull all-nighters only to lose at the very end. My worse losses were reverse sweeps (won everything up to the point before trial, then lose at trial).

The successful counsel is not one who never loses in court, it's one that picks himself/herself back up after every loss to take on the next file without loss of enthusiasm.

The counsel who has never lost in court is one who has never set foot in one.

Edited by Aureliuse
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Yeah, vacation is critical. That's always been a priority for me, but obviously it's been a challenge in the last few years. So for anyone who has started out in the pandemic environment where many people don't really take any real trips, don't let that be you long term.

And although for me, a real vacation normally means getting out of the country, it really just has to be whatever lets you mostly forget about work after a few days, whether that's a long flight, a cottage, or a canoe trip. Or even a staycation, though I do find that getting to another time zone has always helped me disconnect.

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TheBadLawyer
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Right now the struggle is coming back from vacation and feeling like you're in a hamster wheel of catchup. It feels like this job punishes you for taking vacation.

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Rusty Iron Ring
  • Lawyer

It's not just you. I have been almost exclusively litigating for about 15 years, and I don't think it has ever been as miserable as it is right now. 

All the fun, social parts keep getting stripped away. All the awful parts just keep getting amplified. 

Vacation is crucial as others have said.  It also helps a lot to get to know a few much more senior lawyers. The zen approach that they have usually developed to winning/losing/success/failure is pretty solid, and they can help remind you that it's not life or death. You just do your best and then shut down and go live your life.  None of it matters if you don't go live your life. 

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It is true, though, that the return from vacation can be very stressful. I dealt with that recently, compounded by someone in my department leaving and putting their entire caseload on me, and it has been incredibly busy for me since labour day.

I would also agree that things have changed over the last couple of years. I think working from home too much has made a lot of people just a little more anti-social and nasty.

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Rusty Iron Ring
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I definitely spend the first few days back from every vacation swearing up and down that I'll never do something so silly again. That usually passes quickly. 

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I have never regretted a vacation, but sometimes upon coming back, I regret some of my other life choices.

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When I take vacation, I try to build in catch up time by setting my out of office one day longer and blocking my calendar one extra day. 
 

That way the goal of the first day can just be catching up and organizing yourself, without feeling like you need to be on and responding to emails. 
 

At least at my firm, vacation days aren’t tracked (just billable hours), so I’m not losing a vacation day doing this (and I like to believe it sets me up to bill more the first week back than if I was batting away emails while trying to reorient myself).

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I do that, and having a good team helps too. If you have a good assistant and a good trusted colleague, they can both keep things from mounting up too much. I have usually had one or both of those, but unfortunately had neither during my last vacation. 

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Rusty Iron Ring
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Agreed.  And after several Unfortunate Incidents, it is now my practice to make sure that any new assistant/admin understands that we do NOT book examinations, motions, or anything else that requires any kind of preparation, for the first 2-3 days after vacation.

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Bob Jones
  • Lawyer
On 9/16/2022 at 11:16 PM, TheBadLawyer said:

I have nothing constructive to say right now nor am I looking for anything positive or uplifting. Sometimes you just gotta indulge in some self-pity for a bit, especially when you're a chronic depressive who would likely be unhappy no matter what job you switched to. 

There are days I love my job. Like when I fight for and get a good result for a client, the rare occasion when a client shows genuine appreciation...but by and large, I feel like law is sapping my life force, like each year I look like more of a desiccated husk. I'm sick of judges, sick of clients, sick of Crowns. 

Blah.

Litigation is such a grind and the bickering gets exhausting over meaningless stupidity like the drafting a motion form as an example or scheduling a chambers appointment. It’s a giant ego battle. I’m tired of it too. 

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Lawstudents20202020
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2 hours ago, Rusty Iron Ring said:

Agreed.  And after several Unfortunate Incidents, it is now my practice to make sure that any new assistant/admin understands that we do NOT book examinations, motions, or anything else that requires any kind of preparation, for the first 2-3 days after vacation.

I booked my first vacation since 1L this year, and my assistant promptly booked a 2 week trial starting the day I got back. I have since brought in a similar policy 

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Rusty Iron Ring
  • Lawyer
6 minutes ago, Lawstudents20202020 said:

I booked my first vacation since 1L this year, and my assistant promptly booked a 2 week trial starting the day I got back. I have since brought in a similar policy 

Oh dear god. 

The first time it happened, I was blown away that anyone could think it was a good idea.  But then it just kept on happening, so I decided that my expectations must be unrealistic. 

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I used to extend this courtesy to the HR people on my files too (mostly because I needed them to help me prep and get instructions, just as much as I needed myself). I once got in trouble because my assistant told opposing counsel that I didn't schedule hearings in July or August. It was not actually true, but because of vacation schedules, it was kind of a practical reality.

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Lawstudents20202020
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13 minutes ago, Rusty Iron Ring said:

Oh dear god. 

The first time it happened, I was blown away that anyone could think it was a good idea.  But then it just kept on happening, so I decided that my expectations must be unrealistic. 

Luckily the file settled, I was not looking forward to doing trial prep remotely 

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PulpFiction
  • Lawyer

About half the opposing counsel I deal with are great and understanding. Another big chunk are decent folk but it feels like I'm talking to a robot and they can be a bit ruthless in their approach. A minority are just brutal.

I try to set the tone early on to show that I'm reasonable and not looking to nitpick little things just to delay or cause issues for them and their client. I want to focus on the big picture - protecting my client's interests and being fair to all parties. This usually works out great and leads to small talk after negotiation calls, talking on a first name basis, building a connection for the next file we'll be working together on. 

This morning I received one of the most petty emails from a senior lawyer that I have ever seen. Bully tactics. I was nothing but polite to this individual and they seemed the same way our first interaction, so it threw me off a bit. Maybe it's just them selling their high hourly rate to their client, I really don't know. I'm guessing he saw that I'm a junior and these threats would make me fold and advise my client to put an end to their claim. They don't know, yet, that the last thing that will intimidate me is some old ass lawyer, but he's about to learn. I just don't get why some lawyers take the approach of being nasty and thinking that will get them somewhere. It's gross and common enough that it, at times, makes me wonder about my career choices.

I thought dealing with Crowns on the criminal side was a headache, but some of the shit I see on the civil litigation side..just lol 

I also haven't taken a vacation since 1L (didn't even leave the country) and I'm about 1.5 years into my career as an associate. Maybe it's time for a break. 

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Ryn
  • Lawyer
17 minutes ago, PulpFiction said:

I just don't get why some lawyers take the approach of being nasty and thinking that will get them somewhere.

It does make me wonder how often it works. I mean, it must, because otherwise I feel like they'd have quit by now? Or maybe that's just me being naive.

While I haven't done much litigation (articling was the last time I entered a courtroom), I've had my fair share of bombastic characters on the other side of transactions. It really never went anywhere. And some of these folks were ones with reputations at well-known firms. All it did was piss me off and made having to deal with them incredibly annoying. In one case, our client was the one with the money and their client was definitely eager to sell. Yet there I was, along with 30+ year call who was the partner on the file, being yelled at (literally) about "market" in an area of the file that didn't even matter and that the clients had already negotiated. Fuck off.

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Bob Jones
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1 hour ago, Lawstudents20202020 said:

I booked my first vacation since 1L this year, and my assistant promptly booked a 2 week trial starting the day I got back. I have since brought in a similar policy 

Each time I was with my wife welcome the birth of our children, I had assistants calling me about files and crazy clients. So much for emergencies only. 

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18 minutes ago, PulpFiction said:

About half the opposing counsel I deal with are great and understanding. Another big chunk are decent folk but it feels like I'm talking to a robot and they can be a bit ruthless in their approach. A minority are just brutal.

There's a lot in your post, and I don't want a long quote, so I'll deal with stuff that isn't quoted. I do think that it's probably about 10-20% of opposing counsel who are really just unreasonable. When I started my last job, I was doing labour arbitrations all the time, and one of the senior union lawyers tried to bully me every which way. I had less than 5 years of experience, he had more than 30. It's not in my nature to give in to that tactic, but I didn't want to reciprocate in kind, so it made parts of my job extremely frustrating until he realized it didn't work. The process of realizing it doesn't work doesn't work if you don't have the same opposing counsel many times a year, so I guess people keep doing it.

Vacation has been tricky over the last few years. I would encourage you to try to actually take one, and do what you can to protect your time while on it.

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epeeist
  • Lawyer

Re nasty letters, aren't they sometimes driven by client expectations? That is, the sender has a client who wants a "strong" letter sent, and/or the lawyer thinks a bullying letter sent to the other side and discussed with their client (e.g. settlement offer with language about how the claim is worthless and will be seeking solicitor and client costs if the token sum of $X isn't accepted etc.) may intimidate the client on the other side? So much for complying with the chapter 7 (in Ontario, LSO) provisions regarding courtesy...

I'm reminded of a long-ago example which I'm simplifying and adapting, in one small claims court matter the opposing lawyer wanted an upcoming motion adjourned to go to a funeral (i.e. last-minute, and a motion not a trial so wouldn't be ridiculously delayed). The client was annoyed and told me to ask to see proof of death or something to make sure it was really a funeral. I was kind of shocked and discussed it with the lawyer overseeing me on the matter who just said, grant the adjournment and tell the client to talk to me if they have a problem with it, if I lost someone close to me I wouldn't want to be questioned by the other side. Which is in line with the current rule 7.2-1.1, of course.

But, I suspect some lawyers would give in to their client and not agree to an adjournment or require "proof" and if asked would argue that any delay, however short, is to some extent prejudicial given the delays that have already occurred etc....

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Rusty Iron Ring
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Any lawyer who refuses an adjournment for a funeral these days had better come armed with a cheque book. 

There are definitely lawyers who are performatively aggressive for their client's benefit.  There are plenty of others who are aggressive or unreasonable as a matter of course. I've also wondered if it gets them anywhere - it must in some cases, though I bet you the reverse happens just as often.  Everyone needs an indulgence sometime. 

I've found the best approach with these guys is to pretend that you haven't even noticed the nastiness.  Don't rise to the bait when they argue on the record, just ask them if they have anything they want to add when they finish.  Don't respond to nasty emails or letters in kind, just make your response the exact mixture of polite and clinical that you want the judge to read later. 

Once they're on their back foot with this stuff, it really becomes comical. I recall one very senior counsel who would make really mean spirited comments ('jokes', he called them) about younger lawyers, and then immediately launch into "Oh I'm just joking, you take these things so seriously".  Really go under people's skins.  So when he tried it with me, I wouldn't react and would let him launch into "It's just a joke". Then I would say "I'm sorry, I didn't get it. Could you explain it?".  After a few rounds of this he was visibly angry with me, but what's he gonna do? He just stopped. 

Honestly, mean counsel almost never bother me.  They are usually just doing their job the best way they know how. The thing that has become miserable lately is stuff like the inability to rely on things being filed at the Courts, or getting any kind of hearing date in a reasonable time, or being able to just take a step based on your knowledge of the rules without having to first consult a whole constellation of shifting Practice Directions and Notices to the Profession, or being able to just file material without having to make multiple different versions in multiple different formats for multiple different platforms with multiple different formatting requirements. Plus increasingly tight client rules and virtual attendances that make it hard to take people out for lunch and diffuse the tension.

The fact that I don't get to run into friends at the Network lunch room anymore is just icing on the sadcake. 

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epeeist
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@Rusty Iron Ring I may not have made entirely clear, client was saying, if it's really a funeral grant adjournment on consent, but they wanted "proof" there was a funeral...

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