Are lawyers sharks?

Jill and Dana demystify the stereotype of “the aggressive lawyer” and how in most cases, it’s not necessary. It’s a common misconception that can make working with a lawyer seem like a daunting task. But the truth is, not all lawyers fit this stereotype. We believe that being aggressive isn’t always the best way to get results or be an effective advocate for our clients. Join us as we explore this topic and share our thoughts.


Dana DuPerron: Welcome to All Worked Up, the podcast where two employment lawyers break down real-life workplace issues that affect real people.

Jill Lewis: And we’re super excited to bring you this podcast aimed at making employment issues interesting, accessible for employees and employers.

Dana DuPerron: Welcome to All Worked Up. I’m Dana.

Jill Lewis: I’m Jill.

Dana DuPerron: Jill, what’s got you all worked up today?

Jill Lewis: “Duunnn dunnn” –

Dana DuPerron: “Duuuunnnn duun, duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun” [laughs] –

Jill Lewis: “Baby Shark, doo-doo, doo-doo, baby shark” [laughs] …

Dana DuPerron: [Laughs] You went Jaws, I went Baby Shark. What’s got you all worked up?

Jill Lewis: We’re talking about the perception of lawyers as sharks, as the aggressors –

Dana DuPerron: Bulldogs …

Jill Lewis: Yes, “I really want a bulldog.” We’re just talking in general about what to expect with lawyers and maybe their personalities.

Dana DuPerron: Yes, style, I don’t know …

Jill Lewis: Style, I think that’s a good way to put it.

Dana DuPerron: Yes, “We never go out of style” [laughs], no?

Jill Lewis: I think you can probably assume what kind of lawyers we are. We’re real hard asses, we’re just like the worst to work with, we are –

Dana DuPerron: That was my fin, yes.

Jill Lewis: We’re momma sharks.

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: No, we’re not. No, we’re here to just like completely eliminate that perception. I think there’s like a stereotype on TV that lawyers are sharks and that, you know, like we’re really aggressive and we are going to – that’s how you get your case solved, by having like a really tough lawyer and somebody that – I don’t even know. Like this expectation that what, I’m going to call the other side and just be like really rude –

Dana DuPerron: Yes, like [laughs] –

Jill Lewis: – be really mean, “I want you to” –

Dana DuPerron: Really unreasonable –

Jill Lewis: Yes …

Dana DuPerron: – and, “I don’t want to incur any legal fees” [laughs].

Jill Lewis: Right, right, there is that one.

Dana DuPerron: [Laughs] This is the problem. So I am a firm believer that in any job you do there’s like a certain amount of acting but you have to be generally yourself, right.

Jill Lewis: Yes.

Dana DuPerron: Like that everybody has a kind of style.

Jill Lewis: Yes.

Dana DuPerron: And, as you said, there’s this perception that like what you need is a lawyer who’s really a shark, a bulldog, whatever kind of other aggressive animal you want to put in there [laughs], you know, a terrier. I don’t know, I had terriers, they were very aggressive but [laughs] – yes, I was trying to think of something.

Jill Lewis: “I really want a terrier,” yes [laughs] …

Dana DuPerron: Yes, yes [laughs].

Jill Lewis: “Do you have any lawyers that are like real true terriers” [laughs].

Dana DuPerron: A rat, you know, something like – anyway.

Jill Lewis: “Can I just get like an aggressive goose? How about a goose,” you know –

Dana DuPerron: Geese are just –

Jill Lewis: How about like a raccoon that’s trying to get – just really like claws out, “You got any raccoons working for you?”

Dana DuPerron: [Laughs] Exactly. Now I’m just thinking about animals, but OK …

Jill Lewis: We’re not animals, OK.

Dana DuPerron: No.

Jill Lewis: But we’re not animals.

Dana DuPerron: But there is a time and a place to be like very aggressive. I don’t know, if you’re like a criminal lawyer and like someone’s going to get thrown in jail and like you have like, you know, all this weight to come down on the other side – like I don’t know, I’m not a criminal lawyer.

Jill Lewis: I actually don’t know when there is a time and a place to be. You know, sorry if I’m jumping –

Dana DuPerron: Jump.

Jill Lewis: This is me being aggressive [laughs] –

Dana DuPerron: After you. That’s it, this is me being – yes, this is me apologizing.

Jill Lewis: OK. I just think you get more bees with honey like –

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: – in every aspect of your life. Like I don’t see what you gain by being aggressive. If anything you’ve just gained an enemy on the other side.

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: So when we’re working through employment files, and this is just like a traditional notice period back and forth and we’re just trying to negotiate till the end, so we’re just two – we’re people and we’re working with another person on the other side, a lawyer who’s been – either works in-house or maybe it’s HR or it’s somebody – it’s an external lawyer who’s been hired and I think maybe clients get the perception that those lawyers are really like aggressive –

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: – but usually they’re quite lovely.

Dana DuPerron: Yes, they’re mostly not. And I mean like you do have a duty and I think a desire to be they say a zealous advocate. To like really advocate on behalf of your client and there’s nothing –

Jill Lewis: You’re supposed to be zeally, you’re supposed to be zeally.

Dana DuPerron: So zealous but is there a better feeling than getting a really good result for someone.

Jill Lewis: No, that’s the best, the best.

Dana DuPerron: That’s the best part of this job is like when you’re like, “Hey, guess what, your package got increased by $100,000.”

Jill Lewis: Yes.

Dana DuPerron: That is like the best feeling and there are different ways to get there. I really do believe, and I know you do too, that being pleasant to deal with is one of, if not the best way to get there. But what people don’t understand sometimes when they say, “I want you to be aggressive” or, “I want to go in there aggressive,” it’s like the time and place for that is if you are like, “I’m going all the way to court and I have deep pockets and I don’t care how much it costs.”

Jill Lewis: Right.

Dana DuPerron: And still in that case I’d be polite and cordial – like you can say, “No, I’m sorry. No, like that’s not going to work. We’re not prepared to pursue it,” but it’s a lot of the time, “Be aggressive, be aggressive and I don’t want – I want this to settle, I don’t want to go to court, I don’t want to sue” –

Jill Lewis: Right, those conflict.

Dana DuPerron: – those don’t fit. Yes.

Jill Lewis: Yes, those often conflict. You’re exactly right. If I’m going to be super aggressive with the other side and demand that they respond to me – this is when I often get it is when the other side is being a little slow to respond.

Dana DuPerron: Which they do, that’s –

Jill Lewis: There’s nothing I can – I can’t reach through the phone and force them to sign the settlement documents, I just can’t.

Dana DuPerron: Yes, yes.

Jill Lewis: I can very politely and sometimes like gently push, you know, “Hey, how we’re doing” –

Dana DuPerron: Irritatingly.

Jill Lewis: Yes, “I’m following up on this, really hope to get it by Friday,” but what am I going to do, you know, by saying like, “It must be signed by Friday,” or what –

Dana DuPerron: Or what, yes.

Jill Lewis: Or what? You got to be able to back that up.

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: If you want me to say that then you have to be prepared to get your chequebook out so that I can draft the claim and issue it on Monday morning because if not then it’s just all fluff.

Dana DuPerron: And then even if I do, then what? Because then if they send it over signed and you’ve got an agreement, like is it worth it?

Jill Lewis: “Let me work it –

Dana DuPerron: [Laughs] That gets you every time.

Jill Lewis: – I put my thang down, flipping it and then I’m gonna reverse it.”

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: I just don’t think it is helpful to have the aggressor.

Dana DuPerron: No.

Jill Lewis: And so we bring that up because oftentimes we are asked, you know, “Is there somebody who is a bulldog at the firm?”

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: Would it be – you know, “Shouldn’t we go back and be more aggressive?”

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: Sometimes. Sometimes maybe we will, you know, but it is up to the lawyer. The lawyer – you said this to me like a week ago, what did you – that we can take instructions from you, but when it comes to how we are actually going to practice and strategize –

Dana DuPerron: Strategy …

Jill Lewis: – and speak to other lawyers, that’s our reputation. So we –

Dana DuPerron: And how we think best to run the file.

Jill Lewis: – we’re going to make that decision.

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: So, you know, we’re the professionals. We also understand the file and we oftentimes understand opposing counsel.

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: We know a lot of the lawyers in Ottawa and so we know which ones maybe need a little bit more pushing –

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: – and which ones are very friendly and oftentimes if they’re not getting back to us, we know that lawyer has two kids at home, and she just got hit with like the flu and she’s just not checking her emails –

Dana DuPerron: Or very difficult clients or you’re trying to get instruction from several layers at a company. And so let me ask you this. Have you ever had it that where you send a demand letter and they come back and say, “No, too bad, so sad, the initial offer stands?”

Jill Lewis: Yes.

Dana DuPerron: What would you do, what do you think could be a next step in that situation?

Jill Lewis: Well I would pick up the phone and say –

Dana DuPerron: And call …

Jill Lewis: – and call and say, “Give me what I want. Give me what I want or I’m going to reach over there and I’m going to chop your head off.” No –

Dana DuPerron: Yes …

Jill Lewis: – I call and I say, “Really, is there nothing we can do?”

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: No, sorry. Sorry, first I call and I say, “How was your holidays? How are your kids doing? Crazy weather out there, hey. I’m so glad you’re on the file here. Is there really nothing we can do on this file?”

Dana DuPerron: And I’m going to back you up there because you care about those – those are actual – like that makes our job pleasant dealing with people.

Jill Lewis: Yes because we deal with these people all the time.

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: These are not colleagues, but these are people that we –

Dana DuPerron: Peers, yes.

Jill Lewis: They’re peers and we speak with them all the time. And so yes, like I am going to be friendly and pleasant and professional and oftentimes that gets a stronger result for our clients and a faster one as well –

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: – because I find especially – I’ve been on that other side where I have a lawyer who’s representing an employee and I’m representing the employer and I want to get – I like that lawyer and, you know, I want to get a positive result for everyone. And so, you know, I’m going –

Dana DuPerron: Which for your client is obviously – is often not getting sued.

Jill Lewis: Exactly. And so I’m going to respond a little bit quicker and, you know, like there’s these relationships that we can form that help the whole process all the way through even when it’s just coming down to like scheduling trials or –

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: – you know, and not having to fight all the time.

Dana DuPerron: It can be very much that you are advocating for a position, that you’re not backing down on a position –

Jill Lewis: Yes, yes.

Dana DuPerron: – without being unpleasant to deal with.

Jill Lewis: Exactly.

Dana DuPerron: And part of that is too when you’re talking about someone getting back to you, everybody has those people. No matter what you do there are people that you’re like, “Ugh, I don’t want to talk to that person, like I don’t want to do it,” and if you really don’t want to talk to that person, you’re going to put off responding to that person –

Jill Lewis: Right.

Dana DuPerron: – whereas like not – because you think, you know, it’s – yes, like the flip side of that is if you really don’t want to deal with them, you’re going to avoid dealing with them.

Jill Lewis: Yes.

Dana DuPerron: So and there are very few people in the bar, like our bar is generally – like the lawyers in Ottawa in the employment – who practice employment law are generally very friendly –

Jill Lewis: And when you’re talking about the bar, you’re not just talking about a pub down the street.

Dana DuPerron: Yes, the bar [laughs] yes, yes.

Jill Lewis: The bar is a term that we use –

Dana DuPerron: Yes, for the lawyers who practice in Ottawa here –

Jill Lewis: Employment law …

Dana DuPerron: – and they’re generally very friendly and polite.

Jill Lewis: And we’re going to see them at a conference and we’re going to work with them on other files and so I mean –

Dana DuPerron: And that doesn’t stop your ability to advocate.

Jill Lewis: No.

Dana DuPerron: That’s what I’m trying – like there’s a difference between how you speak to someone and what you realistically can insist on in advocating for your client. And I think that that’s where the biggest confusion comes in is that you think that someone who is a shark, who is a bulldog, who is a terrier will get a better result [laughs] and will be a better advocate and we don’t necessarily think that that is the case.

Jill Lewis: I’ve only seen that it takes files longer to settle –

Dana DuPerron: Yes.

Jill Lewis: – it will be more expensive –

Dana DuPerron: Yes, drives up legal costs.

Jill Lewis: Drives up legals and, yes, you’ve got to be able to – you’ve got to have money, put the money where your mouth is if that is the strategy that you want to go with. So yes, that’s got us all very politely worked up.

Dana DuPerron: [Laughs] Very politely, yes.

Jill Lewis: So …

Dana DuPerron: Anyway, so tune in next week and in the meantime don’t forget to like, follow, subscribe –

Jill Lewis: Share –

Dana DuPerron: – share.

Jill Lewis: – comment and we’ll talk to you next week.


This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

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