Written by attorney Michelle A. Perfili

What do you mean "Civil" Litigation? When civility, lawyers and clients collide.

There hardly seems to be anything "civil" about being in a lawsuit. Civil litigation literally means a matter brought to court when the parties are "persons" either natural (an individual or individuals) or artificial (corporations, partnerships, associations, etc.). Civil as opposed to Criminal matters (where the parties are generally the "State" versus an accused Defendant) are the stuff of my practice.

Many clients think that lawyers "fight". In fact, many jurisdictions (including Los Angeles) have adopted rules that encourage legal professionals to behave civilly to each other. Often to the chagrin of a client who envisions their lawyer as "agressive", a "pit bull" or a "barracuda" many lawyers extend professional courtesies to opposing lawyers to keep a case moving along. Essentially this means not "fighting" over every detail (such as documents to be shared or produced, or scheduling of meetings, hearings or depositions) but working with opposing counsel to avoid needless time expenditures. This "civility" often results in costs savings to BOTH parties by eliminating needless court appearances.

Most clients realize that going to Court is not like the experience shown on TV and the Movies. "You're out of order, Your're out of order....this whole things out of order...." wails the movie attorney as he dramatically stomps about the courtroom. Cousin Vinnie laughed, joked and wore a magicians tux with tails to the disgust of Judge Herman Munster. Legally Blondes proclamation that "My dad is a litigator...that's the meanest type of lawyer" does not similarly ring true in a "real courtroom". The drama, the farce, and the stereotype of blood dripping fanged attorneys is the stuff of Hollywood not reality in most cases. Waiting seems to be a norm, and a 5 minute hearing may cost a client hours while his or her attorney waits patiently in a sort of holding pattern while the Judge performs air traffic control.

Minimizing needless "fights" to be resolved in what is called a law and motion hearing actually saves a client money, time and the risk of an unfavorable ruling.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that all things are often better when worked out rather than when forced. Clients as well as counsel are well advised to not merely seek aggression but rather accomodation. There is a time to fight and a time to place down the proverbial olive branch. Put another way there is merit in knowing "when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em". Communication and cooperation between attorney and client as well as attorney and attorney may sometimes be much more exciting and productive than anything you will see in the movies.

Good luck and Good law.

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