Public Interest Law Section Blog: Tip of the Month: Maintaining Positive Relationships in Adversarial Settings:

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  • Public Interest Law Section Blog
    March
    30
    2018

    Tip of the Month:
    Maintaining Positive Relationships in Adversarial Settings

    Samir S. Jaber

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    In this March Public Interest Law Section Tip of the Month, Samir Jaber offers tips for maintaining positive relations with agencies, judges, and opposing counsel.

    Many public interest attorneys interact regularly with government agencies, judges, and attorneys from other organizations.

    Oftentimes, these interactions take place in adversarial formats, whether that is in a formal setting (like a courtroom) or whether it is in a more informal setting (a phone call, email, or in-person meeting).

    Sometimes, that adversarial setting will cause attorneys to treat these entities with curtness or hostility in professional interactions. It is only natural that this can happen - as public interest attorneys who often represent socioeconomically underprivileged clients, our passion for their cases may lead us to respond with vitriol when faced with opposition.

    Samir Jaber org samirj drwi Samir Jaber, U.W. 2012, is a program attorney for the Madison office of Disability Rights Wisconsin.

    However, in order to be an effective advocate for your clients, it is essential that we establish a positive professional working relationship with these opposing entities.

    Let's say you are an attorney who represents clients applying for benefits administered by the Social Security Administration. Building a positive working relationship with the folks who work at your local Social Security Office can pay significant dividends down the road. Pop in to the office and introduce yourself. Ask them about their local procedures and preferences. Get to know the names of the people who will be answering your calls and addressing your concerns. Put a face to those names, and allow them to do the same with you.

    By building that rapport, you may be able to informally resolve issues which arise in your clients' cases.

    You would be amazed at how much more difficult it is for a person to tell you "no" when they have met you personally, and when you treat them with respect.

    If you are working with a judge, government official, or opposing counsel, building a mutually respectful relationship with them is not only the polite thing to do, but strategically, it is the smart thing to do. If they have some discretion to afford your client a positive outcome, establishing that positive relationship may lead them to do so.

    Building these relationships may be difficult at times. It is not always as easy as popping into an office and introducing yourself, and kindness is not always returned in kind.

    However, treating the people that you professionally interact with respect and decency is part of being an effective advocate.

    Our passion for our clients, and our duty to vigorously advocate for their rights, means that we must always put their interests first.

    And as the old saying goes, "you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."





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