Denver Bar Association
February 2007
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Anger and the Attorney

by Sonia Brill

Many clients want aggressive attorneys. These attorneys’ loud and boisterous advocacy in the courtroom reaffirms for clients that their interests are being persuasively argued.

The difference between keen strategy, advocacy and fair settlement, and problematic aggression is the quality of the outcome. At times, aggressive technique on a client’s behalf can become a problem when resolving and settling cases. Thus, the outcome becomes costly for the client in more ways than one. What might have looked like advocacy, sound legal strategy and due process is instead an expression of the attorney’s internal angry state and agenda.

The angry attorney is an increasing phenomenon in U.S. courtrooms. Ultimately, this anger gives rise to stalled resolution, crass dealings with other professionals and a negative reputation for the firm or attorney. Those with anger problems often don’t recognize it in themselves and are surprised when it is brought to their attention.

Many angry attorneys also have difficulty looking at the ways other people see, do and understand things, whether they are clients, seniors in the firm, peers or judges. Often, the angry attorney has a lack of information about the beliefs, values and practices of other people, and is resistant to discussing these differences, making positive resolution difficult and sometimes impossible. Some attorneys don’t have the skills to negotiate the demands of working within a collaborative scheme. "Social misfits" of sorts, often they are perceived by others as being disrespectful, and trigger anger or resentment in peers and other professionals in the community.

In the past, many law firms have been passive when dealing with the issue of anger in the workplace. Some still label anger as a personal problem. At times, human resources managers try to sort out complex conflicts of dynamics that are outside their field of expertise. Sometimes, the "problem employee" is referred to an employee assistance program counselor for assistance. Health plans typically don’t cover anger management treatment because anger is not a diagnosable mental disorder.

Confronting the angry attorney who is in denial can be problematic, and doing so could make an anger-prone person even angrier. However, in a security-conscious world, this passive approach is a costly one. Firms have found this out in more ways than one.

More companies are looking for ways to help attorneys get their anger under control. A 2003 Society for Human Resource Management survey of 270 HR professionals showed that 16 percent of companies offered anger management courses to employees — double the percentage from 1999. In addition to offering anger management to attorneys who exhibit problems of managing stress, communicating effectively and increasing emotional intelligence, anger management classes can be a cost-saving intervention for business and industry by preventing workplace conflict and anger and improving morale.

Anger and Anger Management

Anger is a completely normal, universal emotion. It also can be one of the most frightening and complicated emotions we experience. For some, anger can be a seething cauldron that explodes if the conditions are ripe. In the legal atmosphere, complicating circumstances and interests, high stress, publicly known outcomes and other factors can be optimal conditions for the rise in problematic anger, in which the attorney’s intensity of anger, duration of anger, and aggression (verbal or physical expressions of anger) are witnessed.

Uncontrolled anger can take on a mind of its own. It can affect judgment and perception causing an individual to be unable to make rational decisions or react intensely to routine circumstances. The emotion of anger often is misused. Moreover, it can become noticeable to other professionals and clients in the deliberating process.

Basic Tips on Managing Anger

Anger is not a psychiatric problem. It cannot be managed with a pill or counseling. Anger is a primitive emotion — a feeling of displeasure accompanied by physical changes in the body. We learn early to respond to anger unconsciously through the dynamics of our families. What we don’t learn is that anger is a secondary emotion, which means a certain feeling or feelings precede anger. If an unhealthy demonstration of anger can be learned, it also can be unlearned. Anger management is a systemic set of skills for re-socialization and deep transformation around the anger.

If your anger is getting the best of you, consider these basic tips: The 7 R’s of Managing Anger©:

1. Recognize that you are angry.
2. Release stress.
3. Relax.
4. Remember to take care of yourself.
5. Recharge yourself by being around people who are positive and loving.
6. Reshape your perception about the situation that is causing anger.
7. Rectify your mistakes and forgive the mistakes of others.

To learn more about anger and stress management, visit http://www.angerxchange.com or call (303) 267-2302.


Sonia Brill, LCSW, CAMF, is the owner of Anger X change, the only Colorado-based certified anger & stress management program that offers the acclaimed Anderson & Anderson Model. Anger X change offers a variety of services, from group anger and stress management training to executive coaching for professionals and organizational program for employees and managers.


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