A Modern Survival Guide Interlude

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When The Lawyer is on Your Side

When you have a lawyer, in most cases there are three hard-and-fast, ironclad rules you should obey at all times when you are dealing with them:

  1. Do not leave out details.
  2. Do not miss deadlines.
  • Speak in complete sentences, conveying concise thoughts: Again, write things down if you need to, but finish your thoughts and communicate them in the fewest words possible while still conveying their full meaning. You want to avoid confusing your lawyer, and also remember that most of them bill by the hour — don’t spend your money thinking out loud!
  • Stay on target: Keep your conversation to the matter at hand. No one cares about your cat, your dog, your nephew’s antics, or this other bank heist you did with Billy the Shank last Tuesday. If you’re talking to a lawyer about that thing with the goat, the marshmallows, and the rubber cement related to your public indecency charge, none of that other stuff matters.
  • Do not use legal terminology: You’re talking to a lawyer because they know how to use legal terms and you don’t. Err on the side of plain language. Nothing frustrates and confuses your lawyer more than you throwing around erroneous terms.
  • Follow up: Your lawyer is human and as such may forget things… like your case, for example. Calling them once a week is a good way to remind them you exist, and to catch up on any actions you need to take.

When You are Talking to an Opposing Lawyer

Being on the other side of the table is a whole different ballgame. For one thing, if you have a lawyer, and the other side’s lawyer is talking to you, you’re doing it wrong. There is one ironclad rule for speaking to opposing counsel if you already have a lawyer:

  • Only answer the question that was asked: Provide concise answers that completely answer the question, but never volunteer information.
  • Only answer questions for which you know the answers: Don’t make up answers. Don’t embellish. If you don’t know the answer, say “I don’t know,” and if you can’t remember, say “I can’t remember.” And if you haven’t read a document, for God’s sake don’t testify about its details.
  • Don’t get mad: It’s the opposing counsel’s job to make you look like a liar, a buffoon, or a guilty party, and that’s if they’re feeling charitable and they don’t want to bill you as the Antichrist. Don’t get mad at them for doing their job. Let your lawyer do that for you. Just keep your cool and answer the questions.
  • Don’t joke around: Court isn’t the place for humor, and leave the sarcasm at home. Court transcripts are like text messages — sarcasm gets lost in translation and jokes don’t work.
  • Don’t curse: You’re trying to appear as a creditable, believable human being. Cursing doesn’t help with that. The only time you should curse in court is if a judge asks you to repeat something verbatim that was relevant to the case and contained curse words.
  • Give your lawyer time for objections: Wait a beat or two before replying to any questions. This will give your lawyer time to raise objections to things the other side really shouldn’t be asking.

But What if You Don’t Need a Lawyer?

I’ve only heard the following a few times in my life, and it ended badly in each case: “I don’t need a lawyer! I’m an educated adult! I know what I’m doing; I’ll just tell the judge how it happened.”

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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