Watch Out for the Fall

We have been taught that pride goes before a great fall.  Also that don’t leap before you look.  I would add too that being a horse’s behind can motivate an otherwise indifferent foe to extraordinary heights of fighting spirit.  Those lessons have real application to our daily lives.  There are more than mere adages they can be useful guideposts for your plans and how you deal with folks.

I recall many years ago when a client came to me and my partner because he had been sued by a bank over a car loan.  It was a fancy car and our guy had been living beyond his means.  The suit was filed and in fact a trial date had been set.  We immediately filed an answer to the suit so there would be no default.  This was like on a Thursday afternoon.  The trial was scheduled for the next Monday morning in San Antonio.  Not a convenient location especially on such short notice.  Under the circumstances it is usually customary for an attorney representing the plaintiff to agree to a continuance of the trial for a little bit to allow the defendant’s counsel to get up to speed.  Our fellow had a defense on the guarantee he had signed for the car loan to his company.  It wasn’t a very good defense but at least it was something.  We called the opposing counsel and he was a real jerk.   He said if we wanted a continuance we would have to present it to the court on Monday.  He wouldn’t agree to anything.   He knew of course that meant we would have to make a trip to San Antonio just for the motion.  That would run up costs even when we won the motion.  It was very likely the Court would grant the motion since we had only a few days notice of the trial setting but it was only a $10,000.00 or so lawsuit and costs would overwhelm the efficacy of winning the motion.  We were in a real bind.  He was adamant and very unpleasant about it to boot, downright rude.   So we got with the client and pulled an all nighter and worked on Saturday.  We got as ready for the trial as we were ever going to be.  It wasn’t a complicated lawsuit and we only had the one possible defense on the paperwork supporting the guarantee.   Our opponent no doubt spent the weekend relaxing and feelling quite proud of himself for showing how tough he was.

Well, we arrived at the Courthouse on Monday ready for trial.  Our opponent was under the impression we were going to pursue the motion for continuance.  But when the Court called our case and asked how the parties announced, the jerk naturally said he was ready for trial and anticipated us submitting our motion to continue.  However, we did not submit the motion but announced we were ready for trial.  He was taken back and then  asked the Court to continue the case.   We successfully defeated that request since we were from out of town and the Court knew we had gone to trouble and expense just to get there and after all, the jerk had just announced he was ready for trial only moments before.   So we marched of to the Courtroom for the actual trial after the docket call.  He asked for an immediate recess so he could get his witnessess there.  He got that but only for an hour.  He approached us about working out a deal or compromise but hell after all his rudeness we weren’t interested and let him know we were only interested in having the trial and catching our plane home.  We waived the jury so the case would go to the Court and could be concluded in one day.  His witness from the bank finally arrived and the Court started the trial.  Our young legal paladin had miscalculated in so many respects. It was obvious  from the beginning that he had never tried a case in his life.  He was a “paperwork” lawyer and was used to getting default judgments against debtors without a fight.  He had made the old mistake of underestimating his opponent.  In fact he was so raw and inexperienced that he couldn’t even introduce into evidence the docments that supported the loan.  He kept trying but I objected everytime because he had not laid the predicate to introduce the document.  All document have to be proved up in court, they have to be authenicated and there are rules about how you do that and sometimes copies aren’t good enough and you have to trace the origin of the document and the signatures.  He was pathetic.   He tried and failed to introduce the original note for the car, the guarantee, the payment history on the loan and even the notice of default.  He was so bad that I didn’t even cross examine the witness because nothing had been proved by his testimony other than he worked at the bank and knew our client.  Everything else that was offered had been rejected by the Court on my objection.

The dimwit was beside himself and just rested his case.  Since nothing had been proven we moved for directed verdict and it was granted by the C0urt.   For those not up on trial procedure that is like hitting the proverbial home run.  His clock was cleaned and not only did he lose, his client was furious with him.   We won, our fellow owed nothing to the bank. 

I relate this story only has a warning about hubris and not planning ahead, underestimating your foe and not embarking on something you are not prepared to complete and not knowledgeable  about.   This guy did not belong in a courtroom.   I have always felt particularly good about that win.  He truly got exactly what he deserved.  We didn’t make  anything on the case because the fees and costs couldn’t be justified for the amount of the dispute.  But the victory was its own reward that time.  I had only been practicing a couple of years at that point and it was a learning lesson for me that I took to heart during the rest of my career.

How did they get those huge lintel stones on the top of the supporting stones at Stonehenge?  I know the latest theory is that they built large earthern ramps to pull them up and into place.  But even if that is correct can you imagine the manpower that would have required.  Those stones weighs tons each.  Pulling and shoving them up such a ramp would have been painstaking at best.


Filed under Culture, law

2 responses to “Watch Out for the Fall

  1. Probably a timber crib…rather than a ramp. The interesting thing is that the circle of lintels had to have been prefabricated before they were lifted (the complex joints are perfect and could not have been done ‘aloft’ so to speak.

  2. Adam

    I love the courtroom strategy!

    There is nothing better than cutting the legs out from under your competition when they least expect it. A victory feels great when both sides are ready and prepared, but it feels even better when they under estimate you because they can…or at least you let them think they should under estimaet you. That’s the key.

    A few months back we were up against a competitor for a very large account. We knew we would lose if we did our regular song and dance because our competition was larger, stronger and were known as an industry leader. What they didn’t expect was our creativity in business thinking. We produced a plan that literally took the prospect out of his chair. We basically went in with a Value Based Compensation plan, which NO ONE does in our industry. We don’t make money until our client sells something. It’s not that novel of an idea really, but one that doesn’t fit our industry. We made it work, and the prospect saw that. He loved it. Our competition didn’t even think to present such an idea. We won the business because they thought we would play by the normal rules of the game. Hell, we changed the game, they didn’t know what game we were playing. Never under estimate your competition, but even more important, never under estimate yourself to change the game. Don’t try to fake out the competition, just be prepare something different and execute it well.

    Sales 101: find the biggest “no” and take if off the table.

    Stonehenge was created by aliens, everyone knows that!

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