Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced via Twitter that Tesla “is building a hardcore litigation department where we directly initiate & execute lawsuits.” The lawyers will report directly to him. Said Musk, “Looking for hardcore streetfighters, not white-shoe lawyers like Perkins or Cooley who thrive on corruption.”
 
Musk is soliciting responses from lawyers. Those interested should send him 3 to 5 bullet points about how they qualify presumably as streetfighters.  Musk’s finally shot: “We will never seek victory in a just cause against us, even if we will probably win. We will never surrender/settle an unjust case against us, even if we will probably lose.”
Some of the best trial lawyers I know are in small to mid-size firms
 
If what he is doing is trying to find really good trial lawyers, and he thinks the best trial lawyers aren’t necessarily in big law firms, then he has a point. Some of the best trial lawyers I know are in small to mid-size firms. These are the kind of lawyers that try lots of cases and have years of experience doing so. Yes, some big firm lawyers fit this bill, but many do not since the kinds of cases big firms handle often don’t go to trial due to cost and risk.
 
But I’m not sure this is what Musk is really doing. In my experience, clients that want “streetfighters” often don’t necessarily want the best lawyers. What they really want is lawyers who will argue and fight every point and issue. It doesn’t really matter to clients like this whether contesting everything is justified from a cost and substantive standpoint.
Again, in my 35+years of experience, clients like this want lawyers who will tell them what they want to hear about their cases. It doesn’t really matter to them whether that is the right assessment. And the lawyers who serve these clients all too often fall into the trap of not providing their best judgment about what to do. Or they provide judgment that the client does not want to hear and get berated for being “chicken” and fired. And like the Musk tweets imply, these kinds of clients usually want to micromanage their cases and substitute their judgment for their lawyer.
 
Good trial lawyers know that it’s pointless to contest everything. They know that agreeing to a reasonable extension that would probably be granted by the court anyway is not a sign of weakness. They appreciate that fighting only over things that matter builds credibility with the judge and jury. And they recognizes the principle that what goes around usually comes around.
Lawyers are paid for their best judgment. It’s what we are supposed to provide. Even if it’s sometimes hard for a client to accept
 
Lawyers are paid for their best judgment. It’s what we are supposed to provide. Even if it’s sometimes hard for a client to accept. Sometimes you have to tell your client it’s best to settle. That their case is not very strong.
 
So hiring “streetfighters’ that adopt a scored earth strategy probably doesn’t achieve much in the long run. Yes, as lawyers, we should be prepared to fight and try “unjust” cases. But clients that demand scorched earth strategies usually have convinced themselves that every case brought against them is unjust. That every case needs to be fought.
The other thing about clients like this: they want scorched earth, but they usully don’t want to pay for it
 
The other thing about clients like this: they want scorched earth, but they usully don’t want to pay for it. They are the quick to complain about and not pay their bills.
 
I don’t pretend to know what Musk is thinking with this scheme. But I did learn over my years of practice to steer clear of bullying, micromanaging clients. Life is too short.
Photo by Nick Bolton on Unsplash