Young attorneys are frequently crippled by a lack of morale and inability to trust their gut to make decisions.
For me, the most frustrating aspect was bouncing an idea of another attorney, only to be told: “no, you have to do it this way.”
Wrong. There is more than one way to achieve your client’s goals, and your way is just as likely to lead to success.
There is more than one way to do something
I have the distinct privilege to teach two classes at my alma matter. One of the classes is a practical skills class for first year law students. During our semester wrap up, one of the students commented that they appreciated my feedback throughout the year because it allowed them to improve their own style. The students commented that other instructors apparently would essentially tell them there is only way to do thing (their way) and criticize them for not doing it that way.
That is just wrong. Yes, there are rules of civil procedure, general rules, local rules, and even implicit rules. Most of the time, attorneys will follow those. Even within in the constraints of the rules, there are multiple ways to accomplish the same goal.
Some attorneys bark and scream. Other attorneys just state the facts and a direct path to a resolution. Some attorneys make liberal use of motion practice, while other attorneys have other ways to achieve success for their clients.
Look, there are absolutely situations where you have to put an issue in front of the court. Or when you have to get opposing counsel on the phone and let them have it. But for the most part, there is more than one way to obtain your client’s goal(s). That is an incredibly difficult, but incredibly important lesson to learn as a young attorney.
Everyone can smell a phony
Client can smell fake bravado. They can also tell when attorneys are being dishonest or insincere.
From my experience, my clients would prefer honesty over bravado. That’s also an incredibly self-serving statement, because my strength is being honest—I’m pretty light on the bravado. But I also know that some clients want a bombastic attorney who scares the living beejesus out of them—because they think the attorney will do the same thing to opposing counsel. I think that’s pretty weird, but hey, everyone gets to pick their own attorney.
I’m a younger attorney, but other young attorneys constantly try and scare me with threatening e-mails or voicemails. Hilariously, they are usually less experienced than me with either the subject matter or the venue. Translation: it’s all bark, no bite. They might score some bonus point with their firm, but it just makes my job easier—because fake bravado is easy to spot and extremely easy to deal with.
One, I know that I have the upper hand—which creates a surprising amount of leverage. Two, if the issue gets in front of the court, the court will immediately recognize that as well—which also creates significant leverage.
Going outside of your comfort zone usually leads to mistakes
You know the game of telephone, where you tell a story in a circle, and then see how much it’s changed when it comes all the way around? That’s kind of what happens when you start doing things outside of your comfort zone—it changes the narrative for good—and it’s difficult to get back to square one.
Many young lawyers fall into the trap of taking overly aggressive action or threatening to do something—purely because they are acting on instinct or reacting to opposing counsel. But when you act on emotion, you are bound to make mistakes.
Maybe you will lose sight of the issue. Maybe you try and match the dirty antics of opposing counsel—but you get caught and they don’t. Maybe they just want to rile you up and watch you have a tirade.
All of those are bad things that can permanently alter the course of a case—and that’s not good. Stick to your guns and your gameplan. That will result in a much higher chance of success.