A. Introduction

People watching the interaction between the lawyers in their divorce sometimes have a hard time making sense out of what they see. One client said at the end of the divorce, "I could never understand how they could be at each other’s throats one minute and cracking jokes the next." In spite of appearances, it is usually to your benefit if the two lawyers get along with each other.

B. You Benefit From Cooperation Between The Lawyers.

Stipulations can be reached which simplify the case, move it toward settlement and save you money. Lawyers often meet without their clients to try to isolate areas of agreement and disagreement and to cooperate in exchanging information. Your lawyer will discuss any such agreements with you.

All this can be done without compromising your position. If negotiations don’t result in a settlement, your lawyer can and will vigorously represent you in trial. The time spent exchanging information and negotiating will make you and your lawyer better prepared for trial.

Lawyers routinely extend simple courtesies to each other such as agreeing to extend deadlines and postpone hearings. You may feel like every advantage should be pressed in your favor, and that if the other side is under time pressure, your lawyer should take advantage of it. But in the long run, it doesn’t help you for your lawyer to be uncooperative. In most cases, an extension is available by court order anyway. Refusing to agree just costs you and your spouse more legal fees. And the shoe will be on the other foot some day. When you need more time, the other side will remember your discourtesy and refuse. Then you will have to go to court for relief and both your legal fees will again increase. Still, you are not powerless in these matters. If you truly believe that a delay will work to your detriment, tell your lawyer so that you can discuss what to do.

Finally, it is important for lawyers to treat each other in a way that makes it possible to work together in all cases. The good reputation your lawyer has developed for cooperation and reasonableness in previous cases will benefit you in your case.

C. You Will Be Hurt If The Lawyers Are Drawn Into An Emotional Fight.

Part of the job of a matrimonial lawyer is to be objective, to stay calm and rational during the emotional cross fire of a divorce. Experienced lawyers know that anger can impair their judgment. So they try to avoid personal feuds with the opposing lawyer. Still, some clients are pleased at first when their lawyers attack opposing counsel. Their pleasure usually lasts only until they realize the cost in fees and lost settlement opportunities caused by belligerence. If you feel your lawyer is not being aggressive enough, the two of you should talk about your concerns. Some cases require more aggressiveness then others. But if your desire for a more militant approach is motivated by anger, your best interests may not be served, and your fees will certainly be higher.

D. Dirty Tricks Do Not Help.

Your lawyer will be honest with opposing counsel and will expect you to do the same. Concealing information, lying, or in other ways being dishonest or trying to hide behind legal technicalities will almost always hurt your case. Lawyers and judges are angered by conduct which violates the rules requiring full and truthful information. Your case could suffer if you are less than candid. Another reason to do things right is your lawyer’s duty to the judicial system. Lawyers have good reasons to obey all the rules that govern their profession. Breaking the rules means losing the respect of judges and other lawyers, and even risking the loss of a license to practice law.

E. Some Questions and Answers about the Relationship Between Opposing Counsel

1. Can lawyers be friends and still put their clients’ interests first? Yes. Matrimonial lawyers take their work very seriously. Even if the opposing lawyer is a friend of your lawyer, both lawyers can and will work zealously for their clients’ best interest. Although it is sometimes hard for clients to understand, lawyers learn early in their career to take their client’s side and argue positions with great conviction, even if they are arguing against a lawyer who is a close friend.

2. Why is the other lawyer being so nasty when my lawyer is being so nice? Lawyers are people, each with an individual style. Some think they gain an advantage by trying to intimidate the other side. Other lawyers are overly aggressive because they think their clients expect it.

Intimidation almost never works. Keeping calm and polite in the face of inappropriate behavior is usually the best way to a settlement or success at trial.

SOURCE: American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Divorce Manual; A Client Handbook