It is not uncommon to feel intimidated by litigation and legal advocacy, especially if you are a new lawyer. No matter how much exposure a law student has — such as trial advocacy, moot court, judicial clerkships, or advice from seasoned attorneys and law professors — nothing truly prepares you for “real world” lawyering. Below are some helpful tips, according to the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Journal for aspiring litigators as they start their journey and career in the courtroom.
- Manage your caseload: Deadlines are the driving force of litigating. New and young associates are expected to keep ahead of all pending deadlines. They must do so for their own cases as well as for their firm’s partners. This includes court appearances, expert reports, discovery demands, depositions, and trial dates. You must be extremely organized to avoid mistakes. Remember that while assistants calendar deadlines, at the end of the day it is the attorney’s ultimate responsibility to properly handle a client’s case.
- Always be prepared: Be prepared from the initial consultation through the finalization of the case. Having a form document for consultations will help you better assess a potential client’s case. Once you are working on a case, make sure to familiarize yourself with the file. Speak with the client often to make sure you are managing expectations. Also, get to know the judge on the case and learn his or her idiosyncrasies. Also know the applicable case law and relevant statutes for your client’s matter. Finally, trust that your preparation and instincts will help you overcome surprises.
- Protect your reputation: Understand that an attorney’s reputation is key to his or her legal career. Your behavior, words, and professionalism will affect not just your reputation, but that of your client and your firm. And, depending on your area of practice, the legal community can be a small one. While litigation can involve conflict, stress, and emotions, do not let the deteriorating relationship between the parties in the lawsuit affect your behavior. Understand that zealous advocacy and legal representation can coexist with professional courtesy, adherence to the rules and law, and fair tactics. Also, be on time so that you do not upset the other side or even face sanctions.
Although you may be early in your legal career, trust your instincts and the quality of your work product. Get with a mentor and learn as much as possible from him or her, even when the advice is hard to listen to. Following the above tips will help start your legal journey and keep you on the right path for years to come.