Opinion: Bulldog lawyer for hire

Canterbury Chambers barrister, Marcus Elliott, has little time for bulldogs

“I wanted my lawyer to be a bulldog,” the client said to me. “But you’re more like a Chihuahua.”
It was difficult to know how to reply. I made a file note.
It reminded me of another client who told me earlier in my career, “The other lawyer’s playing with you like a cat toys with a mouse”. That client looked proud of himself after he said this. I proved myself a mouse by failing to respond. My only consolation was that the client was paying for the time it took to humiliate me.
Apart from a tendency to invoke animal metaphors as insults there is a common theme to these observations. Some lawyers are indeed bulldogs. Clients love bulldog lawyers.
The bulldog lawyer bares teeth, slobbers on letters, and shows no respect for others. Sometimes this absence of respect is preceded by the words, “with respect…” - don’t be fooled. Always beware when a bulldog lawyer says, “with respect…” - you know an insult is coming. “With great respect…” means things are about to get very ugly indeed.
The bulldog lawyer hurls emails, doesn’t listen, talks over you, threatens injunctions, works till late, and barks, and barks, and barks. Abuse is sprayed about like saliva.
The bulldog lawyer is always correct in any statement of the law or assessment of the facts of a case. Being right means you can be aggressive. Those who argue that aggression is a bluff employed by those who are wrong don’t understand the subtlety of aggression.
Bulldog lawyers never apologise. Have you ever seen a bulldog apologise to a child after mauling it? Of course not! It’s more likely to blame the child for provoking it.
The bulldog lawyer interrupts witnesses and opposing lawyers. The bulldog lawyer is fearless and will even interrupt the judge. Clients who love bulldog lawyers especially love it when their bulldog lawyer interrupts a judge who seems to be unsympathetic to their case. “But, your Honour, I really must say, with the very greatest of respect…”
Clients who love bulldog lawyers are not satisfied with the mere defence of a claim. Only a ‘vigorous defence’ will do. There is a real difference between a defence simpliciter and a vigorous defence, and these clients are well attuned to it. A mere defence is simply that, an emaciated pathetic thing, more Chihuahua than bulldog and not at all virile.
Some might say that a defence expressed in crisp, neutral, concise, language and devoid of anger and adjectives serves a purpose. But really only a mouse in the jaws of a pussy cat would try to pretend this is true. Bulldog lawyers can be relied upon to flay you with a vigorous defence, a defence not just in words but in action, all jaws and teeth and saliva, a defence barked out and laced with invective.
The vigorous defence necessitates as many By Marcus Elliott, barrister, Canterbury Chambers lawyers as possible: a lawyer to devise strategy and refine insults (usually described as a ‘partner’), a lawyer to draft important letters (known as a ‘senior associate’), a lawyer to draft inane letters (the ‘solicitor’), no-name lawyers for discovery and inspection, a research clerk to locate adjectives, another for adverbs.
A vigorous defence requires a pack of bulldog lawyers. Packs of bulldog lawyers are expensive. But expense does not deter lawyers who have the capacity to employ a vigorous defence. Indeed it is not at all inconsistent with their philosophy on the economics of legal practice. Bulldog lawyers know that a bill should be treated as an opportunity to assure the client of their aggression.
Clients who love bulldog lawyers eventually discover this. The rampant legal fees to which they are subjected ensure that they can never afford to settle. There is therefore only one path to follow at that point: increase the vigour of the defence. Only a pack of bulldog lawyers has the skill to increase the vigour of an already vigorously vigorous defence.
Bulldog lawyers are not afraid to embark upon a personal attack in pursuit of a famous victory. And when two or more bulldog lawyers battle with each other by written word or by conference call or (even better) in court, it is truly a sight to behold! Submissions are virile; cross-examination masculine.
Since there is a precedent in this article of employing animal metaphors for ulterior purposes I will indulge in it myself. There is a species of flatworm which engages in what is known as ‘penis fencing’. This act is literally what the words describe, although ‘penis duel’ would also be accurate. Lawyers who think they are bulldogs are actually more like flatworms. Perhaps they do not know that the winning flatworm proceeds to impregnate the hermaphroditic loser. If so, you will not see it happen in open court.
I used the word ‘penis’ in the previous paragraph in the non-gender specific sense, for there are indeed female bulldog lawyers - although it is true that the majority are male.
But what of those in our profession who are not bulldogs? Sometimes you see them skulking around, keeping to themselves, and even smiling. You find them with their wet nose in a book, reflecting on some deep legal principle, drafting a letter which is robbed of all antipathy. When they talk to you in the phone they sound quiet, reasonable, understated.
Some might say they are polite and professional, but really they are timid and pitiful. Do they treat other lawyers with respect and courtesy? Failure to insult others lawyers in pursuit of a client’s cause is unethical. Are they willing to listen to what the other lawyer says without interrupting? A shameful display of meek submission.
I have listened to my clients and vow never to be that type of lawyer again. I will win every case I have - or litigate you into jelly meat if I don’t.

Recent articles & video

Chapman Tripp confirms role in landmark emissions reduction project

Wellington lawyer charges client for free report – gets year-long suspension, five-figure fine

A library relocation job almost turned this Mayne Wetherell partner off a legal career

Ashurst adds team of five to energy and infrastructure offering

Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit against family court lawyer and NZLS

Tompkins Wake, Holland Becket, and Juno Legal name newest partners, lawyer

Most Read Articles

Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit against family court lawyer and NZLS

Bell Gully backs EECA on history-making emissions reduction project

Tompkins Wake, Holland Becket, and Juno Legal name newest partners, lawyer

Auckland High Court grants permanent name suppression to terrorist-related offender