How To Handle Lawyers Threatening You
Have you ever seen the movie “Monsters Inc.”?
It’s a cute animated Disney film about Big Scary Monsters. All day long they go through magical doors, each leading into a bedroom of a young child sleeping at night, and the monster’s job is to scare the shit out of that kid and extract screams for money.
That’s very much like the life of a lawyer. He goes about his work day, new situations come up, he gets involved and scares some people, he gets paid. The better he is at scaring people, the better paid he is. I’m not attacking lawyers for doing their job, everyone’s got to eat and earn a living. I just want to show you how best to deal with him.
You have to understand this fundamentally: When someone hires a lawyer to threaten you, he’s not hiring someone to figure out the legal matters involved, he’s hiring someone to threaten you. Crushing you and making you bend is the first priority, the law is just a tool.
In earlier times, when a dispute arose you would hire some muscle, or even a hit man to take care of it. In civil society we hire attorneys. They are the modern day muscle men. Unfortunately the law is often unjust or unclear and attorneys are therefore able to exact injustice, sometimes terrible injustice, on behalf of their clients.
“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.” George Bernard Shaw
THE APPROACH: After a busy day scaring people, when a monster enters your bedroom to scare you, you need to scare HIM. He should open the door, step inside, THEN you close the door, lock it, terrify the living shit out of him until the monster begs you to let him out.
A threatening attorney must be made to realize that his life is much better returned to intimidating average people. He should want nothing to do with you. You are the pig who enjoys getting dirty. When your name is mentioned to him, it should trigger a recurring nightmare and sudden stomach pain.
That’s my approach anyway. And it’s worked well for me.
Back in the glory days of my career as a Commercial Real Estate Broker, I would receive a very threatening attorney letter at least once a month, but often about once a week. They are like toilet paper to me, the words on the paper didn’t concern me.
That’s because involving attorneys is such a common negotiating practice when dollar values rise and several million dollars are at stake. The attorney letter is always written to sound as terrifying as possible; threatening enormous amounts of money, threatening life as we know it, threatening to sue everyone and everyone’s grandmother.
The more threatening the letter, the more references to precedent case numbers, the more terrifying the tone, the more they’re covering up. The more they are compensating for lack of a legitimate case. Learn to smell a bluff.
What I do next depends on the attorney’s tone on the phone when I call him. I’ve noticed 3 types.
It’s true, and it is rare, sometimes you call a lawyer and his tone is actually warm and a little friendly. That’s good. He might actually be a reasonable guy and might try to make a fair situation out of this. Go ahead and work it out fairly. Getting an attorney involved is a hostile act, but see if there’s still an opportunity to resolve the matter cooperatively.
Usually his tone is cold and technical. That’s just fine. I usually cut right to the chase and tell him “the letter I received is without any merit whatsoever. You’ve given us 1 month to send your client $350,000 before you file a lawsuit. That’s nice of you, but let’s not drag this out and create movie suspense. Go ahead and file the suit tomorrow if that’s in your client’s best interest. But if I receive any more communication from your office beyond that this matter is dropped, I will sue your client and sue you personally for malicious prosecution according to CCP 128.7” Surprisingly, often enough that got the attorney to drop the matter.
Remember, attorneys do not want legal problems resolved. Resolution of conflicts dries up his billable hours. He wants as much chaos and destruction as possible. That way he becomes more important.
However, it’s amazing how despite a tolerance for causing pain for others he will usually have a very low tolerance for pain himself. Most attorneys have no balls. They aren’t businessmen and they’re usually unwilling to take even the slightest personal risk. Attorneys are very uncomfortable about being attacked personally, and they’re not used to it. You have a lot of leverage over them by going after their license and their reputation, two things they guard dearly. They just won’t risk anything important on a bluff.
I’ve even had attorneys hang up on me mid sentence realizing it’s not worth their time speaking with me for another second, let alone pursuing further nonsense legal action. That is a good outcome.
The third type of encounter is when, often enough, the tone of the attorney picking up the phone is rude, nasty, and extremely condescending. I’m not going to deny it, I get a certain sense of excitement when I hear this. My blood starts rushing and I can’t hold back my smile. This situation now merits my favorite legal response.
I tell him “We’re going to keep this short and sweet. Do you have a pen and paper? I don’t want to send back any letters or emails, I want you to write down my formal response. Are you ready? Good. The formal response to your client is, ‘Eat Shit and Go Fuck Yourself’. Did you get all that, or should I repeat it?” That should catch him off guard. Always, he’ll quickly ask me why I’m behaving so unprofessionally. I don’t tell him to please look in the mirror when he asks these things, I just tell him to “Be a good professional and pass along the message. Goodbye.”
That is a powerful approach for so many more reasons than you can quickly realize.
In a fight you want to limit your opponents moves and force him in the direction you want him to go. The other side is now forced to carefully consider their options, their options have just been drastically limited.
I make sure I don’t seem like I’m crazy and emotional, I seem crazy and deliberate. No one wants to get into a legal fight with someone who’s crazy and deliberate.
Also the nasty rude condescending attitude usually comes from the big fish lawyers that charge $500 to $900 an hour. His client went through pains to find the biggest baddest most expensive weapon to fire at me. Someone really wants me scared. The attorney just received a fat retainer and must justify his cost. After all that puffery and bravado, he really really doesn’t want to have nothing to show for himself but to relay a message to eat shit and go fuck yourself.
He has a reputation to uphold among his profession and beyond. Everyone knows him as a big shot. He does not like to doubt himself. His wife, children and friends ask him how things are going. No one speaks to the king of the jungle like that! But what can he do about it? Someone paid him a lot of money to scare me and I’m not scared.
The big shots are usually more sensitive. They may dress expensively, speak eloquently, be well educated, but make no mistake, they are not that sophisticated, they are savages. The way I deal with them is I think about how to deal with a 3 year old throwing a temper tantrum for attention. If he behaves, I’ve got a cookie for him. Otherwise he’s going to enjoy some discipline.
The point is that I make it very clear that I’m completely uncooperative when anyone tries to strong arm me with bullshit. I’ll usually demonstrate that clearly by doing something that will not look good in front of a judge. Because IT WILL NEVER GET IN FRONT OF A JUDGE. As I said earlier, most legal cases are without much merit. The bible is interpreted in a million different ways, and unfortunately our legal code is even more widely interpreted. Attorneys need your cooperation to intimidate you with the law. If you’re not cooperative, there’s no way the other side will take a questionable business dispute all the way to court, spending a couple hundred thousand dollars doing so, with a very shaky chance of winning. It’s not a smart business move, and ultimately there is a businessman paying and authorizing the attorney’s actions. So when an attorney gets hostile with me, I remain very uncooperative and demonstrate that clearly by doing things that could look terrible in front of a judge.
Let me be clear, I would never tell a moderately reasonable attorney to “eat shit and go fuck yourself”. I tell that to the hardcore condescending assholes. I’ve done it many times. It has NEVER defused the situation. They always get pissed and riled up. That’s fine with me because they were already uncooperative and hostile to begin with. This is not a bluff technique, I’m making it clear that being a dick is not a productive way to deal with me. And since, in my experience, their cases have always been vague or based on bullshit, their ONLY options left after that are to pursue trial on a weak case, or become friendlier.
My approach assumes the other side has something to lose personally and won’t find it in their interest to pursue legal action against me at any cost. I can imagine this approach wouldn’t work at all with a government agency run by bureaucrats spending taxpayer dollars. Even if their case is weak and trivial nonsense, they go all the way, and they appeal if they lose.
Quick tip: When you do engage the other side (or their lawyer), whatever you do, never say the line “I’m taking this all the way to trial, I don’t care what this costs me”. Everyone says that. Everyone. That doesn’t work with someone like me. I smell blood. “Oh really, you don’t care what this costs you? Alright then, let’s find out how much you really don’t care.” People who say they don’t care about the costs often cave sooner, because they are showing that they’re weak. They’re showing that they really don’t have much solid to fight you with except their loudly stated tolerance for pain. That tolerance is easy to test. And it’s usually very low when there’s not much else but puffery to back it up. Any modestly wise person cares about the financial effects of litigation. Don’t try to pretend you’re stupid, or else you’re going to look stupid.
A much better approach if you want to demonstrate you’re unconcerned about a lawsuit is to find a creative reason why you might actually enjoy a lawsuit. Maybe tell the attorney something like this, “While no one enjoys a grueling court case that wastes everyone’s time, energy and money; now that I think about it I would be really excited for the opportunity to depose your client. He has acted in bad faith and illegally on a number of matters that I personally resent and I simply can not wait to hear how he will answer for himself under oath. Do me a favor and tell your client to file the lawsuit and let’s take this all the way to court. I think this will be very interesting.”
There’s more to this than I can describe in this article, but you get the idea. I’m not advocating bluffing, I’m advocating standing up for yourself. That’s what this article is about. Ultimately you’re dealing with a hostile situation that probably won’t be able to be resolved cooperatively anymore. A legal fight, like any other kind of fight, requires that you take some risks or else the other side will have all the leverage and will wipe the floor with you. Once someone is attacking you and you’re in a fight, you either grow some balls, or you bend over.
Attorneys are hated because they’re in a great position. They get to attack you with no repercussions. In fact the more fighting there is, the more they benefit. You will need to get creative to gain leverage and find their pressure points.
Attorneys are smart to intimidate people into settling large amounts of money over absolute bullshit. Because too often it works. Most people who work hard to build their life and savings are too confused and afraid of the law to adequately fight back and defend themselves.
If you have clearly done someone wrong, then you deserve to pay for it. I’m not writing this to help assholes. This advice shouldn’t help much if the other side has a legitimate claim against you for clear injustice. This is about standing up to legal intimidation as a negotiating tool. From my experience that is what most legal action has been about. If you’ve ripped people off and they’re suing you, I hope you get fucked, and I fully support the lawyer that will help do the fucking.
Truth is I don’t totally consider the attorney the bad guy. Someone hired him to reek havoc and terror to get his way. The attorney is just doing what he’s paid to do. It is the attorney’s client that is pursuing justice or injustice.
Attorneys have gone through extra years of school at considerable expense, and endured grueling hours to pay their dues. They want to get paid for it. They don’t usually care if they damage or ruin your life unjustly.
That’s why people need to know how to stand up to them.
The higher you rise and the better you do in business, the more legal challenges you will encounter. You’ll be surprised at the reasons people invent to take from you, gain leverage against you, or just harass you.
Many good friends of mine are lawyers and I’ve had a lot of experience with a wide assortment in the business world. I can safely say that few people have less respect for the law than lawyers. Abuse of law is not just common, it defines the industry.
Don’t let them push you around.
If you’re willing to look a monster in the eyes, you just might find that he has no teeth.
UPDATE: This article has spread like crazy, but I’m not sure how I feel about the most often quoted line being “eat shit and go fuck yourself”. This is not at all how I normally conduct business and deal with people. ONLY with people already attacking and trying to strong arm me. Virtually all of my business interactions are extremely cooperative and I go out of my way to resolve disputes fairly. A great counterpoint to this article and demonstration of how to resolve normal disputes is in my article lovingly titled How to handle Neighbors Pissed Off over a Crazy Late Night Party. It’s a fun read, and it’ll better prepare you for normal conflict resolution.
UPDATE 2: On a serious note, to get a better sense of how serious and pervasive the problem of Legal Abuse is, please read any story from this excellent site:
Faces Of Lawsuit Abuse