Publish date: 23 February 2022
Jemma Barnard, Sunshine Coast Lawyer

Over the past few weeks, I have seen quite a number of Sunshine Coasters reach out through various online community groups for recommendations as to who is the best ‘bulldog lawyer’. Perhaps the influx of enquiry to lawyers at this early point in the year not only speaks to the ‘New Year – New Me’ mindset but points also to the economic and domestic tension that often explodes throughout the festive season and the school holidays.  

However, what perplexes me is that when looking for legal representation, a hard-nosed and particularly aggressive advocate is commonly perceived as the “gold standard”.  

Having benefited from working alongside many lawyers and barristers both within my workplace and across the courtroom, the notion that the best or the most successful lawyers are the most aggressive or confrontational just simply couldn’t be further from the truth.  

A legal practitioner’s duty to the court and the administration of justice is paramount and must prevail over any duty to their client. Upon admission to practice, practitioners take an oath of office and are required to conform to a broad range of ethical standards. Against this background, lawyers should not be considered ‘hired guns’, nor should they be seen as mere mouthpieces for their clients. Throughout all dealings with each other, whether they be litigious or transactional, it is critical to their reputation and that of the profession that lawyers are respectful, courteous and professional.  

Whilst the nature of law is inherently adversarial, it may come as a surprise that the profession itself is incredibly collegial, particularly here on the Sunshine Coast.  

I have been a recipient of the collegiate nature of the legal profession many times. New practitioners are often welcomed, mentored and guided by their colleagues who might one day become their adversaries.  

Unsurprisingly, and as in most professions where people work closely alongside each other, there are certain personalities who, perhaps rather deservingly, earn themself a reputation for being quarrelsome and unnecessarily hostile. In my experience, however, those lawyers are often not the ones who are achieving the best results for their clients, nor are they offering the most cost-effective service.  

The reality is that by retaining a particularly unaccommodating and aggressive lawyer, you run the risk of inflating legal costs without much overall benefit. Aggressive advocates are not necessarily outcome-driven at all and can often be masters at conflating the real issues, which, in turn, creates more dispute and leads to higher legal costs! 

In most litigious matters, lawyers will be required to frequently liaise with and exchange arguments with their opponent. Having observed the demeanour of many different lawyers during such exchanges, very little is to be gained from adopting a ‘bulldog’ approach. Greater impact is always had with soft and calm articulation rather than a belligerent and combative communication style. In my view, legal services are delivered most efficiently and successfully when both sides of the table treat each other with mutual respect.  

So, what are good quality lawyers made of?  

In my view, and particularly in matters that have a litigious flavour to them, a lawyer sporting diplomacy and tact, with a dash of tenacity, is one that ought to be preferred over one that adopts a pugnacious approach. I think that a good quality lawyer is someone who is a challenging, but fair opponent with a strong sense of justice and ethics.  

If I could suggest a list of the three key attributes that you should look for when seeking legal representation, regardless of the matter, my advice would be to look out for:  

  1. A high level of expertise in the relevant area of law – expertise and knowledge of the law will outweigh aggression time and time again.  
  1. Positive peer and client reviews – if a lawyer is well respected by their colleagues on both sides of the table, and by their clients, that is generally a good indicator of an excellent operator within their field.  
  1. Clear communication – make sure that your lawyer can clearly explain both their fee structure and the legal process that you are embarking on in a way that makes sense and leaves you feeling supported. You should not feel confused or ‘in the dark’ about what lays ahead during any legal process.  

Perhaps the desire for a ‘bulldog’ lawyer stems from a misunderstanding of what a quality advocate looks like. The ultimate concern is that a particularly aggressive lawyer can often exacerbate an already upsetting and difficult situation, rather than safeguarding your legal interests. A high level of expertise in the relevant area of law should always be the critical factor when assessing a legal representative.  

And as my final public service announcement, when in doubt, seek recommendations for representation from the Queensland Law Society.  

As published in Mondaq

Jemma Barnard
Jemma Barnard
Senior Associate
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