Graduating from law school and passing the bar exam in the state(s) wherein you plan on practicing is a tremendous feeling. You have spent countless hours studying, reading cases, preparing for mock arguments, enduring final exams, and then prepared for the bar exam and now you have passed and are ready to commence the actual practice of law. However, there is an abundance of learning that you have to do because there are many practical implications of the practice of law that are simply not taught in law school. Those that have had the benefit of a family member, employer, or mentor who is an attorney may have shed some light on these points; however, listed below are some practical tips that every newly admitted attorney can benefit from in addition to continuing to expand your abilities as an attorney.
Your Reputation Starts on Day One
Legal communities are often very small (even in large cities) and if you practice in select areas of the law such as family law, criminal, or litigation; you are likely going to come across the same attorneys again in the future. How you behave in a case and most importantly, how you act toward opposing counsel and an opposing party is not something that many attorneys forget. Regardless of whether you personally like an opposing attorney or their client, always remember that just like you, they have a job to do and they are advocating for their client. While you may not like how they are doing so or disagree with a tactic that they have employed, such does not change the fact that your reputation is what is important. You cannot control how someone else acts (in any facet of life); however, you can control how you respond and how you respond what will define your reputation in the legal community wherein you practice.
Also, it is important to remember that your reputation is not just among other attorneys but Judges as well. More often than not (every jurisdiction varies) but most Judges are in the same courtroom for several years and sometimes even longer depending on the size of the jurisdiction and the volume of cases. Thus, you are likely going to appear before the same judges every week, and again, the question becomes; how do you want them to remember you? Judges are people too, and they have opinions, and they remember how attorneys who appear before them conduct themselves in Court.
Do you want to be known as the attorney who yells, screams, and overreacts or do you want to be the reserved professional who responds when necessary and allows the quality of your work and the strength of your legal acumen define your career?
Befriend the Courtroom Clerks
If your intention in your practice is to go to Court (case type is irrelevant); you need to make a concerted effort to be both respectful and develop a good report with the Judge’s clerk(s) and scheduler (some Judges have a clerk and a scheduler). The courtroom undeniably belongs to the Judge, but it is the Judge’s clerk and scheduler who ensure that the courtroom runs smoothly. It is likely (depending on what areas of the law in which you practice) that you will be dealing with the same courtroom clerks on an ongoing basis, so make it a point to get to know them. Many have pictures of their families posted on their desks, so ask them questions and engage in a casual conversation, even if the topic is something as innocuous as the weather or just asking them how their children or grandchildren are doing. Similar to any human interaction, people will remember how you treat them and if you treat them with respect, they will (hopefully) treat you with respect as well. The Clerk and/or schedulers can be your best friend, especially when you are in a position where you need a court date that may be on the brink of being full but if you ask politely and plead with them, they will often make an effort to add you on to the call for that day. They also often know how the Judge likes certain things to be completed, such as courtesy copies that are sent in advance of a hearing and the organized manner in which the Court wants things done. You know these intricate details can place you in a much better position in comparison to your opponent who may have prepared a pretrial memorandum or courtesy copies in a manner in which they deemed appropriate but not necessarily by how the Court prefers such tasks to be completed.
“The opinions expressed herein are solely opinions of the author and are by no means to be referenced in any pleading, document, or to be used for republication in any platform whatsoever.”
This series will continue next month with part two that looks at professionalism as an attorney and the relationships you build with your clients.