How an Attorney Can Defeat a Courthouse Bully

Reviewed, edited and approved by Kathryn Wayne-Spindler

I read a great article recently on bully behavior. Courthouse bullies are seen all throughout the court system in every area of law, but especially in family law court. Considering the area of family law entails so many emotions and different elements, it can be an easier place for courthouse bullies to attack. It is important for attorneys to know how to spot a courthouse bully. Some ways they can present themselves are:

  1. As a successful attorney trying to intimidate a novice attorney
  2. Attorneys who try to make opposing counsel question their argument
  3. Unprofessional attorneys who try and wear down opposing counsel
  4. Judges who try to force attorneys into unfavorable settlements

Being a younger, or less experienced attorney can be stressful in itself when entering into the courthouse. Even being an experienced attorney dealing with a bully is no fun. Courthouse bullies only make the divorce practice harder, and can cause a young attorney especially to lose confidence in themselves and their abilities. The best thing that not only a newer attorney, but also a seasoned attorney can do to defend themselves against a courthouse bully is to watch for the warning signs, and be able to follow these 5 steps to overcome the bully. These are the outlined signs.

1. Maintain composure 

If an attorney is faced against a courthouse bully, the first step that must be taken is to maintain composure. Take a deep breath, think calmly, and proceed with thought and composure. You are not in a race. Don’t make people think you are in one. If an attorney seems to be startled or thrown off, the bully will know that their strategies are working and continue to take advantage.

2. Do not surrender to fear 

You know the law. You know the case. You also do not need to feel rushed. There is time to review anything you are questioning. So pause and think about the tactic being used. You will forget about it or learn from it. Both are good things.

3. Outsmart the bully 

If the attorney or judge is citing that you did something wrong. Be humble, ask them to more clearly point it out for you. Ask them to cite the rule or law that that they believe you are in error about. If they can’t it was probably a bully tactic. Take your time to see if you can use what is being said against the bully now or later. Turn the tables.

4. “Punch ’em in the nose”  

As is stated in the article, this is not literally something you can do. But in my office is an attorney yells at my staff that starts an immediate change in communication with that person. There is no reason to let a person yell at you or your staff. If that happens all communication can and should be in writing. The bully will either send you emails that you can use in the future that will show that person in a bad light or the bully will calm down. Either way it is a good tactic to change all communication to writing when the yelling begins. The loudest person does not win. Don’t waste your time or energy allowing the power of the bully to grow. Take the power away.

5. Believe in yourself 

One of the greatest asset to an attorney is confidence. A little confidence can go a long way in the courthouse. Imagine if you were trying to convince someone that your thought is the right way of thinking, if you did not show confidence in your opinion, do you think your listeners would side with you? The answer is most likely no. When facing a courthouse bully, confidence is key. The thrive on cowering and fall of their opposing attorney. In my office I stress to my staff, our customers are going through a difficult time. They need to know you are confident in your ability to help them. An attorney can simply “ride the wave” by  and wait for the bully to wear themselves out. One thing I like to do is to talk very softly. Whether to a client or an attorney who is yelling,  when I whisper, they stop yelling to listen.

The attorneys at Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates are experienced attorneys who change with the times to meet the needs of their clients. Contact the Milford, Michigan law office of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000 for assistance. The attorneys of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates practice law throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Genesee and Livingston counties as well as four mid-Michigan counties Clare, Gladwin, Ogemaw and Roscommon. The attorneys handle cases in Milford; Highland; Hartland; White Lake; Wixom; Commerce; Walled Lake; Waterford; West Bloomfield; Linden; Fenton; Flint; Grand Blanc; Holly; South Lyon; New Hudson; Howell; Clare; Gladwin; Houghton Lake; Higgins Lake; and many more Michigan communities. Soon to be opening another office in Dadeville, Alabama.

For more information, please see article “5 Steps to Overcome Courthouse Bullies” by Steven Peskind on