Standing Up to the Schoolyard Bully: Tips for Dealing with Difficult Senior Lawyers

  • March 28, 2022
  • Alexander Evangelista

Being a junior lawyer can be a stressful experience. You're dealing with unfamiliar challenges and competing demands on a daily basis, all while trying to improve your skills in a fast-paced profession. However, there is one experience that stands out for many junior lawyers: dealing with difficult senior counsel on the other side of a file. It can come in the form of an unexpectedly aggressive position or an unwelcome piece of commentary on how you're doing your job: "never in all my years of practice have I seen someone do [x]" or "I'm very disappointed that you're doing [y]" are two favourites. 

But just because a lawyer has a few more years of experience than you does not mean that they are in the right. Learning how to handle senior lawyers who are all-too-comfortable resorting to bullying is an essential part of any lawyer's toolbox. Here are some tips for dealing with those bullies. 

1. Be Prepared 

If you know opposing counsel has a reputation for being difficult, come well-prepared to each interaction with them. Learn the facts of your file and the basis for your position inside and out. Your responses will then be more elegant and pointed. You'll also feel more confident in your position, which will make you feel more confident in your communications with counsel. 

2. Stand Your Ground 

You may feel intimidated by opposing counsel when they have more experience. They may even use that experience to try to make you doubt your position. However, the fact that opposing counsel has more experience does not necessarily mean that they are taking the right position (or that you are taking the wrong one). 

When pushed on your position, remain firm. There may sometimes be a reason to reassess your position. Perhaps someone has provided you with a strategy, case or piece of evidence that you hadn't considered. But don't doubt your position just because someone challenges you on it. Over the course of your career, you will hear many lawyers tell you that your position is wrong. That doesn’t make it true.