Ask for Help from Those Wiser than You

It’s hard to admit that you just don’t know the answer to a question. Asking for help doesn’t come naturally to everyone — certainly not for me. I’d always been a person who likes to figure things out by himself.

When I was a kid, I played with LEGOs a lot. I was a stubborn child, so whenever I got a LEGO set, I’d try to put it together by myself, without help from either the directions or my parents. Sometimes, I was able to put together the jet (or car, or building, or whatever else) without any problems. But other times, the kits were simply too complicated for me to figure out by myself, and I needed to rely either on the directions or some help from my parents to ensure the set was built right. I didn’t always like asking for help, but I DID like having the super-cool LEGO set built properly. Sometimes, that help was essential getting the task done the right way.

These days, I’m no longer a kid who plays with LEGOs — I’m an attorney who represents clients in court.  Though I’ve (arguably) grown up, I still remain a stubborn bastard who likes figuring things out for himself. In our first 18 months of practice, Jordan and I have spent hundreds of dollars of practice manuals, rule books, and treatises, all intended to help us figure out how to answer our client’s questions and find solutions to their problems.

But sometimes, even after hours of reading case law, treatises, or practice manuals, I just can’t find the answer to my question. After all that research for naught, I start to get annoyed that I can’t get the information I need, which leads to frustration, which occasionally leads to anger at myself.

When this happens, I take a deep breath,  swallow my pride, and look to those wiser; I ask for help.

Suck it up

You’re a young lawyer. You don’t know everything. You’re in good company, because more older lawyers don’t know everything either.

This is ok. Swallow your pride and admit that you’re not perfect. You need to get an answer to your problem and you’re going to have to ask someone else you know to help you through it. It’s time to find a person who actually knows what they’re talking about.

Younger Lawyers Take Heed: This is Why Networking is Important

You’re told throughout law school to “NETWORK! NETWORK NETWORK!” as if your career depends on it. Guess what, it does.

Not simply because you could land a job by chatting with a few lawyers at the many happy hours you’ll be invited to, but because it lays the groundwork for your future colleagues and business contacts. You’ll meet plenty of lawyers, young and old. You’ll shake hands with litigators and transactional lawyers. Join a bar association committee and do good work for them. Give business cards to everyone, and get a card from everyone too. Maybe have a beer with the chair of the local criminal defense bar.

Cozy on up, because you’ll likely need to call them one day. And the more people you know, the more people you can ask for help when you need it.

Figure Out What You Need

Once you’ve recognized that you’re at a roadblock and need some help, figure out exactly what you need. Do you need an example of a motion or pleading you’ve never filed before? Maybe you have a question about a specific legal issue. Whatever it is, make sure you know what you think you need before you ask for help. This keeps you from wasting the other person’s time.

Pick Up the Phone and Get to the Point

You figured out what you need and who you’re going to ask? Great, pick up the phone and call them. Yes, that thing on your desk (Or maybe in your pocket. Or maybe in your hands right now being used to read this article). While it’s easy to simply fire off an email to a colleague, I’ve found that calling is invariably better —keep it to the point

Keep the call direct. Explain why you’re calling, your specific issue, and whether they have a moment to discuss it. If they don’t, thank them for their time and move on. If they do, keep the call direct, and once you’re done, thank the person you’re calling.

I’ve found so far in my career that my more experienced colleagues have been very generous with their time when I call with questions. But I am very mindful of the time I spend with them, for good reason.

Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome

Remember that the person you’re talking with is volunteering their time to talk with you about your issue. This means that you are taking precious minutes away from their clients and their cases. An occasional call is ok, but don’t rely on other attorneys to routinely find answers to all of your problems. You should not use another lawyer’s hard work as a crutch, or an excuse for you to be intellectually lazy — use other lawyers’ advice to teach yourself to fish, rather than relying on them to give you fish.

When you get stuck, you can keep spinning your wheels, or you can ask for help to get you out of the rut. The wise words of a more knowledgeable lawyer won’t just benefit you, but your clients too.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

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  1. Avatar Sam Glover says:

    That last part is key. I’ve known plenty of younger-than-me lawyers who definitely wore out their welcome, but I know even more who didn’t ask for help when they should have, and when I would have been happy to give it.

    Don’t be afraid to ask for help, but don’t do it too much. One of the best ways to get the hang of this is to look for more-experienced lawyers with whom you have more in common than just your need for help. It’s easier to ask for help when you’re already having lunch or going for long bike rides every now and then.

  2. Avatar Cheryl Niemeier says:

    One great person to ask for help is a law librarian! While I recognize that not all lawyers have a law librarian on staff at their firms many states do have county and court law libraries that have law librarians on hand and that are open to the public.

  3. Avatar Paul McGuire says:

    I find e-mail works best because you can get a quick reply to your question if it is something simple and many of my mentor attorneys can be difficult to get on the phone. If I am in court waiting for a hearing and I see your e-mail question I can respond. I can’t as easily get on the phone and get back to you.

    I have one or two colleagues who I e-mail with questions and they usually get back to me much faster. If it really is something that they need to spend more time on then they can let me know a good time to call. Or if they don’t know the answer, I can get that answer from them and move on to another resource.

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