Last week I dispelled some prevalent myths about solo attorneys.
Here’s another myth worth examining: young lawyers should take every piece of advice and immediately act on it.
Seeking input from other attorneys is a good idea. But blindly following external advice is a terrible idea.
Sometimes the best advice is to ignore everyone else and do what you think needs to be done.
Remember the source
There are lots of great attorneys. There are lots of bad attorneys. There are of attorneys who get great results because they fight dirty and are jerks. Some attorneys are brilliant legal minds, but lack people skills or advocacy skills. Some attorneys are brilliant oral advocates but have absolutely no clue how to write a brief. In other words: look at the source when considering whether to follow another’s advice.
But in today’s day and age, you can advice from more than just people, you can get advice from the interwebs. As in: right here on Lawyerist. There are great posts, great comments and great discussions. But with the good comes the bad. There are posts that I disagree with 110%. There are comments that make me want to scream at someone. And to be fair: I’m not excluding myself from that grouping. There are posts that I look back on and wish I could erase from the interwebs.
If you are a young attorney looking for mentorship or advice, be damn well sure it’s coming from a valuable source. For example, bouncing a question about criminal procedure off an estate planning attorney is probably not going to lead to brilliant insights. Or asking for advice on client relations from someone that regularly mistreats their clients.
Just because you don’t have the answer to something, don’t ever assume that _____ has a better answer or solution. And definitely do not assume that because one time you read something on the internet that it’s a great idea (or even a good one).
Make sure it fits the case (and how you practice)
Regardless of how great the other attorney is – you know your case and your facts better than anyone else (at least I hope you do).
Despite your best efforts to relay every single important detail about the procedural posture, the client, opposing counsel, and the judicial assignment, you probably missed something. Or you didn’t tell them that one detail because you didn’t think it was important. Frankly, if it’s a complicated scenario, the recipient of your plea for help probably missed something. Or maybe they just aren’t that interested in helping you today.
In other words: even the best mentor can give you a square peg for a round hole unintentionally. If you are asking for help, you might be lost, which means there’s a decent chance you don’t even know how to describe the forest. If that’s the case, you can’t blame the other person for steering you in the wrong direction (although good attorneys should ask the right questions to get the right answers).
Once you’ve determined the advice actually fits the case, make sure it fits your practice. There is more than one way to get things done, even in litigation. If you think something is amiss, and your mentor tells you to serve a Rule 11 motion, you probably want to think really hard about that one. If the advice giver tells you to sit tight but you think action needs to be taken—then you probably want to take action. That doesn’t mean the advice was incorrect, it just means it doesn’t fit your practice style and/or the case.
Give yourself some credit—you are not a complete idiot
Full disclosure: if you are an idiot, you will make poor decisions. It won’t matter how much training or mentorship you have, you will just continually make bad decisions. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume you don’t fall into that category.
As a young attorney, you will be indecisive. You will make bad decisions. Assuming your head is on your shoulders, however, the good should outweigh the bad. Looking at cases in hindsight is not a perfect science—it’s far from it. But there should be one common denominator: you. Whether you followed someone else’s advice or blazed your own trail, you still made a conscious decision to take a course of action. If you are still practicing, it was likely the right course of action.
That’s not a license to be reckless or simply be stubborn and do the opposite of everyone you know. But it does mean that you have to believe in yourself. As described above, you know the case (and your strengths) better than anyone else. That means you are in the best position to make a critical decision. I cannot tell you how many times I have politely ignored advice from outstanding attorneys and ended up with great results. It’s impossible to quantify each decision—but at the time it just made sense.
As you get more experienced, you will make more and more decisions on your own (well, I hope you do). One of the greatest confidence builders is making decisions on your own. Or getting some advice and doing the opposite—and getting great results. If you are frequently crippled by an inability to make those critical decisions, you probably want to consider a new profession. Every lawyer faces tough decisions and every lawyer needs help sometimes—but not all the time.