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A Good Lawyer Knows the Law, A Great Lawyer Knows How to Negotiate

When I graduated from law school about 20 years ago one of my friends thought they would be funny and bought me a new coffee mug that said: “A good lawyer knows the law, a great lawyer knows the judge”. I am a good enough lawyer to know that there may be some truth to this old saying. However what I have found after two decades of practice is that knowing people is good, but knowing how to talk to people is what is so great. Attitude is everything in my business. Every lawyer has their side for which they are ethically obligated to advocate. How then to we convince the other side that our side or our “argument” is correct without alienating ourselves from our opponent?

First, I need to know the facts of my case and my client better than anyone else. Next, it goes without saying that I need to know the law inside and out. I need to know where there are week spots in the prosecutor’s case and I need to know how to best “sell” these potential problems of proof when negotiating a settlement. Most important to my negotiation is not just the facts or the law as it applies to my case. Rather it is how I present factual or legal issues in my case to the prosecution or the judge.

Yesterday I was in court in Van Nuys, California. This is arguably my “home” court. This is my Valley where I grew up, where I worked for a prosecutor, where I got my start and where I have one of my offices. I probably don’t go to any other court more than I go to Van Nuys. Does this mean that I have an advantage over other defense lawyers in this court? Maybe yes. Maybe no, but, let’s talk about it.

As I walked into court to discuss a case with the courtroom prosecutor, the first thing I did was look around to take note of what is going on the in court. I said hello to the judge, the clerk and bailiff and then looked over to the prosecutor to see what he was doing. He was alone. His courtroom partner was not in court. This meant he was likely overwhelmed with work. He wasn’t talking to anyone but he was reading a case file. This meant I should leave him alone for a minute before I go talk to him. Some people call this common courtesy. I just call it good negotiation technique. I waited for the prosecutor to look up and acknowledge me and I knew he was ready to talk.

I started by saying hello. It sounds novel but it actually works better than, “Can we talk about the Smith case”. We then talked about a few things that had no relation to a case whatsoever. After a while we begin to discuss my two cases. Is there any discovery or documents which are outstanding? Was a settlement offer conveyed? Is the case likely to go to trial or not? Is there any way we can get an offer of “X” instead of the offer of “Y” that was conveyed, and here is why…

Often the answer to my question is “sorry, no”. This was the case in court yesterday. I expected this and I showed no anger or emotion or even surprise. I said thank you and told the prosecutor I will convey the offer to the client. I didn’t yell or argue or stomp my feet. The time for argument is in front of a jury, not to a prosecutor. I then go sat down and waited for the judge to call my cases. In my mind I began think to myself about regrouping in an effort to find another inroad through which to achieve my ultimate goal in the case.

Here is where the funny part comes in.

After I sat down yesterday, another lawyer approached the same prosecutor and started talking about his case. I later noticed that his client was present in court and seated a couple rows behind us. As the lawyer spoke with the prosecutor I noticed his voice started to rise. He wasn’t shouting but he was talking in a tone which I interpreted as aggressive and he then began to argue with the prosecutor. I didn’t hear the entire conversation but I did hear things like “I can’t believe” and “I’ve never” and “I not going to” and more. The prosecutor didn’t take kindly to the other lawyer’s tone. He simply said, “I’m done talking to you”, and he was done. The defense lawyer continued to badger the prosecutor. The prosecutor became even more polarized away from the viewpoint of the defense lawyer.

I waited for the aggressive lawyer to walk away and I quietly approached the prosecutor and made a quick joke about the attitude of the prior lawyer. The judge then called my cases and I headed back to my office. Shortly after arriving at my office the phone rang. It was my assigned prosecutor from one of my cases that morning. He told me the judge asked him to give me a call about the case we had together. He conveyed a new, different and better offer to me. He offered my client an Exhibition of Speed on a case that was a Second DUI. He then went on to tell me that the lawyer with the attitude was arrested in court shortly after I left the courtroom. It seems this lawyer took one of the court files out of court and then he refused to give it back. When the bailiff tried to stop him from walking out of court, he was arrested. I heard this lawyer was booked into the jail facility at the courthouse and was later released with a citation to appear in court.

Many years ago I heard my grandmother tell someone, maybe me, that we get more flies with honey than with vinegar. It’s still true today grandma. Maybe I should change the title of this blog:

A Good Lawyer Knows the Law, a Great Lawyer Knows the Law AND how to Negotiate.

If you or someone you know has been arrested or charged with DUI or any other crime call a lawyer with the negotiation skills and experience to get you the results you deserve, call me, Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340 or Email me at: or visit my sites for more information: or