Most attorneys I have spoken with have heard this question many times during their careers. It is a loaded question, and a difficult one to answer. I had one person pose this question to me earlier this week. It did cause me to think about the kind of attorney I am and strive to be.
A “bulldog” attorney can mean different things to different people. Many people think of a bulldog attorney as one that is overly aggressive, rude, and demanding. Others see this type of attorney as one who will fight to the death to achieve a certain result for their client. I think most attorneys would say that they zealously advocate for their clients. In speaking with a few attorney friends this week, I’ve gotten a number of answers regarding the characteristics of a bulldog attorney. For many, a bulldog carries a very negative connotation. This attorney can be very difficult to work with, generally disagreeable, and is well-known for these traits in the legal community. On the other hand, one friend stated that a bulldog can be all bite and no bark, which makes a lot of sense.
While I was thinking about this, I decided to go to the American Kennel Club (“AKC”) website to find the true characteristics of a “real” bulldog. The site indicates that “The disposition should be equable and kind, resolute and courageous (not vicious or aggressive), and demeanor should be pacific and dignified. These attributes should be countenanced by the expression and behavior.” Wow! Those are some fancy words, but what do they all mean? Equable means that one is “marked by lack of noticeable, unpleasant, or extreme variation or inequality,” resolute means “marked by firm determination,” and pacific means “tending to lessen conflict” Now that those descriptions are cleared up, let us venture into whether these are traits that potential clients would want in an attorney.
Many (but not all) are taught from a young age that kindness is one of the most important character traits. Kindness means that you treat others with respect, are generally friendly, and are considerate of others. I’m thinking that you can’t go wrong with kindness. Being kind does not mean letting others run all over you. You can be firm in your demands and dealings with others, but also kind. A kind and resolute (even) disposition can work wonders even with the most unpleasant client or fellow member of the Bar.
Being an attorney requires that one be both determined and courageous. After all, we are required to power through law school and the Bar Exam. Those feats alone take tremendous amounts of determination and courage, even before one is officially licensed to practice law. That determination and courage must bleed over into our dealings with others, both in and out of the courtroom. It takes both of these qualities to accept tough cases, deal with less-than-congenial opposing counsel, and potentially intimidating judges. And, as stated in the AKC description of the bulldog, being courageous does not mean that one must be vicious or aggressive. I believe this is key.
Lastly, I believe it is important for an attorney to lessen or eliminate conflict when possible. A common perception is that most attorneys are argumentative and quick to jump into a conflict. In certain situations, this may be appropriate and even unavoidable. However, I do believe that an attorney who strives to lessen conflict actually appears more dignified than one who is quick to instigate a conflict. The increased focus on mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law over the last several years tends to show that our profession is starting to move away from conflict. There will always be cases that cannot be handled peacefully, but conflict can be handled in a dignified manner. We must always remember to walk into every situation, even a contentious one, with respect for all involved.
Do I think I am a bulldog attorney? Yes, I do. I believe that we, as attorneys, have quite a bit to learn from our canine bulldog friends. We should all strive to have their characteristics. Perhaps if all attorneys truly had the traits of our canine counterparts, our profession would garner even more respect.
 Of the canine variety.