Ryan Shuirman, Yates, McLamb & Weyher, LLP
I saw a television commercial the other day that said something to the effect of “90% of parenting is just showing up.” My immediate reaction was, “if only it was that easy.” Without commenting on anyone’s parenting skills (or lack thereof), we all know that our clients demand more of us than just showing up. When it comes to our professional relationships, and especially with opposing counsel, it really starts with doing what you say you’re going to do.
We are told in law school professional responsibility courses that your reputation can take years to build but can slip away with one bad decision. Few things build reputation more easily than simply following through on what you tell other parties you are going to do in a case. Whether it is producing items in discovery, filing a motion, serving timely responses, or answering benign and straightforward questions directly, simply doing what you say you are going to do does more to build credibility and reliability with other lawyers and, ultimately, your clients, than many of the cleverest strategic litigation maneuvers you could envision.
From the other perspective, receiving promises from opposing counsel about what will be produced or filed sets reasonable expectations. Perhaps more commonly, extending a professional courtesy to opposing counsel on an extension of time to respond to discovery necessarily sets a reasonable expectation that you will receive what has been promised in a timely fashion. Failing to fulfill your end of the bargain and following through with what you said you would do undermines good will and punishes a professionally courteous lawyer for extending a deadline for you.
Sometimes it really is that simple. When you promise to obtain dates for a deposition to occur, obtain the dates. When you request more time to serve discovery responses, serve responses before the deadline opposing counsel has so graciously extended for you. When you assure opposing counsel that you will make a decision as to whether you will pursue a claim or assert a defense within a given period of time, make that decision without requiring opposing counsel to follow up with you. Be the kind of lawyer for whom follow up is unnecessary.
We all get busy. We all get distracted. There are any number of reasons why an informal deadline can come and go without a great impact on a particular case. But the impact on your reputation for reliability, and the detrimental impact on our ability to rely on another lawyer’s word, can be much greater by not following through on even the simplest of tasks. Although I don’t know that just showing up accomplishes most of what we need to do as parents, following through on what you have promised in your professional relationships suggests a reliability that ultimately will serve you and your clients well beyond any individual case.