“Pit Bull” v. “Peaceful Warrior”: Is There A Difference?

A few years I was taking the deposition of a defendant in a will contest. During a particularly tense of line of questioning the defendant’s attorney started ranting that the questioning of his client was “demeaning” and “inappropriate”. He threatened to haul me before a judge and have me sanctioned for “overly aggressive” deposition conduct.

Shortly after a rather testy exchange, we took a short break. During the break I asked opposing counsel why he had gone into such a tirade when I had asked difficult, but certainly not inappropriate, questions of his client.

“Alan, it had nothing to do with you,” he said. “I just wanted to show my client that I’m a pit bull.”

After resuming the questioning, we had another series of heated exchanges that were really nothing more than counsel’s attempt to coach his client on how to answer my questions.

The opposing attorney turned out to be right. The court imposed sanctions for the conduct that occurred during the deposition. But the sanctions were assessed against him.

The moral of the story: Being a “pit bull” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

Clients justifiably want their litigation attorney to be aggressive and tenacious; they want to be able to sleep at night knowing that someone is squarely in their corner, fighting to advance their position in the case. But if litigation is about the destination—a favorable outcome—and not the journey, you’re in much better hands with a “peaceful warrior”, one who lets their mastery of the facts, investigative resourcefulness, and preparation do the talking.

Peaceful warriors keep their noses to the grindstone. They avoid “grandstanding” for their clients in deposition or in court. They pick apart the opposing party surgically and methodically. They walk the walk instead of talking the talk. They pride themselves on civility, professionalism, respect and decency. They are tenacious, but in an admirable way.

Pit bulls, by contrast, fight for the sake of fighting. They identify every reason to indulge in a skirmish, without regard to how much it will cost their client. They figure–usually incorrectly–that their unpleasant attitude alone will be sufficient to pummel the opposition into submission.

So when it’s time to decide who to hire to represent you in litigation, just know that you are generally better off with the warrior and not the pit bull.

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