Friday, March 18, 2011

The Bully

On the day my daughter came home telling me a little kid called her “Bossy”, I knew it was time to teach my children about people I wish they never had to deal with…bullies. So I started giving them my guide to dealing with bullies. I told them the text book, "right thing" theory on bullies: Don’t pay attention to them, just ignore them, walk away, and never go down to their level. Little did I know I would have to heed my own advice this week…

As an attorney, I have a reputation of killing them with kindness. I am always good to my fellow attorneys because I have found that if you are nice to your colleagues they will be nice to you when you need it. So far in my career my professional courtesies have done well for me. I have avoided Motion to Compels, gotten in last minute evidence, and have no problem rescheduling hearings and depositions for family commitments.

This week I had to take a plaintiff's deposition. The plaintiff’s attorney was a young attorney, fresh out of law school, who I had come across only a couple of times. Normally new attorneys are overly nice to older attorneys because they are trying to form their reputation…well not so with this particular attorney.

In my plaintiff’s depositions I usually follow the same script, go through the background, injury, a little bit of medical history…it's usually one of the easiest and most enjoyable tasks I do as a litigator. But, this deposition was different, compliments of the bully across the table. After pretty much every question that left my mouth, he fired objections…

Me: “Now when did you first notice pain in your neck”.
Him: “Objection. Vague. I mean can you clarify pain?”

Really? I have to clarify what pain is for a personal injury plaintiff whose whole case is based on the fact that they felt pain? I tried to keep calm and not get thrown off my deposition game plan, but the objections continued….

Me: “Did you ever have pain in your neck before the accident”
Him: “Objection. Vague, can you define before?”

Now as a Mom to three children, including one H, I have learned a great deal of patience. It honestly takes a lot for me to get angry. And I’ve dealt with my share of jerk attorneys in my career, so I am usually pretty good about navigating around them. But a Plaintiff’s deposition that normally takes 45 minutes was bordering on the 2 hour mark due to the interruptions.

Me: “At your prior job, what were your duties?”
Him: “Objection. Vague. I mean what do you mean by duties?”
Me: “What did you do at your last job?”
Him: “Same objection. I mean what do you mean by what did you do?”

Oh come on. Really? Each objection seemed more ridiculous than the next. I could feel my face getting hot, which is always something I hate that happens to me when I get angry. The last thing I wanted to appear like was a beaten down female attorney who was getting flushed in the face.

I kept going. The fight continued. I kept my cool for the most part although I occasionally fell into his argument traps. The deposition finally concluded. The bully went down the hall, beaming with pride thinking he had beaten a fellow attorney to a pulp. I looked at the court reporter who rolled her eyes at his behavior. I just smiled, loaded my bag and said “I just don’t practice law that way”.

I walked away knowing that I had taken the high road and not gone down to his level. But unfortunately, not sinking to his level actually made me feel worse. The fighter bone in me that all attorneys have was yelling: “You just got beaten down…by a rookie attorney…and you let it happen”. Then came the couldas, shouldas, wouldas. I could have dosed it right back at him in his cross, I should of not responded that way on the record when he fought with me, I wish I would have said this or that. It hit me as I drove away that taking the high road, even though it’s the right thing to do, is definitely not the easiest thing to do. And well frankly, it can make you feel like crap.

That night at dinner, my daughter asked me about my day. I said “Oh, Mommy dealt with a real bully today”. H, piped up from his macaroni and cheese… “Did you walk away Momma?” “Yes, H, I did…and you know what?”. I intended to go into a deep story and dispense the lesson of how it’s not easy to do the right thing, and even though it may make you feel bad afterwards doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do. But, as I looked into their innocent eyes, eyes that have never laid eyes on a true bully, never been in a fight…I realized there was no way they could understand this now. So I stopped and changed the subject to a game of “Who can find the Scooby Doo shape in their Mac and Cheese”. We’ll just save this lesson for another day.


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