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20 Tips and Lessons from 20 years for 2020

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After twenty years in the private practice of law in civil litigation for the defense, I take this opportunity to provide survival tips and lessons learned. Whether you are new to the practice of law or nearing retirement, it is my hope that you will find these useful.   Five are from Clients, five from Courts, five from Counsel, and five from yours truly for you to keep in mind during litigation.        

 

Clients

 

  1. Know the client. To provide valuable service, you need to know what the client wants, and have some mutual understanding of how you propose to accomplish the goal.  An agreed course should be clearly outlined at the start of the representation and discussed and revisited as necessary.
  2. Listen to the client. This may seem obvious, but it is not a pleasant experience to have to explain why a course was taken that was contrary to agreed instructions.  Being in a service providing industry, actively listening and making pertinent inquires will serve you and the client well.
  3. An informed client is usually a happy client. We do not make the facts.   If there is a problem, it needs to be identified and addressed early.  The reporting of positive case developments is also appreciated by clients.      
  4. Do good work and strive to produce consistent results.
  5. Be responsive. Answer phone calls and e-mails timely.    

 

Courts

 

  1. Always stand-up when the Judge enters and exists the room. This may seem obvious, but I am amazed when counsel does not do this.  Rising for the presiding Judge upon their ingress and egress shows respect for the tribunal.  We cannot forget law remains one of the noble professions.  Let’s keep it that way, please.
  2. Be polite to Court personnel. A simple phone call to the Court’s staff or bailiff if you are unsure of how the presiding Judge holds Court can usually steer counsel in the right direction.  Also, remember these are the same people you will see and interact with when you appear for contested hearings and trial in the same Court.  If you think they will not remember you or your office, think again.  
  3. Be prepared. The Judge expects counsel to be prepared to discuss the case and present the clients’ position on the matter at hand.  This is our job as counsel, to advocate for our clients’ positions.  If you are not prepared, you are not providing a valuable representation and are likely tarnishing your own reputation. 
  4. Make the Court’s job easier. This holds true in legal writing and oral arguments before the Court.  Try to provide the Court with all the necessary information and argument to make it as easy as possible to issue a ruling consistent with your advocated position.
  5. Ask the Judge. I have witnessed many pre-trial conferences and contested hearings where it seemed like there was an “elephant in the room.”   Whether it’s an issue of pre-trial procedure, a date for an anticipated ruling on a pending motion, or a matter of the Judge’s personal preference on the conduct of a jury trial, there is usually no harm in asking. 

 

Counsel

 

  1. I recently departed from my prior practice of calling opposing counsel upon receipt of a new defense assignment.  Part of the reason for this departure was the lack of a return call, and not gleaning useful information from the call when initial contact was made.  We need to communicate effectively with counsel.  I have found the telephone is still an invaluable tool to get things done.  Of course, there are times when we need to send a confirming letter or e-mail. 
  2. Inappropriate, childish behavior by counsel is unfortunate when it occurs during litigation.  The oaths we take as lawyers and the Rules of Professional Conduct govern our profession and we must remember to think before we speak., inclusive of prior to hitting “send” on e-mails.  
  3. It’s a small, round world. The Indiana legal community is a pretty tight nit group, particularly if you practice in a niche practice area of law.  It’s important to keep in mind that what goes around will probably come back around. 
  4. Agree to disagree. When we advocate positions, our adversary will likely disagree.  There comes a point when all attempts at compromise have failed and Court intervention is imminent, hence no. 5, below. 
  5. Don’t be afraid to “call the bluff” or go “all-in” particularly if you know the law and the facts are with you.  Just be sure your client is informed, and approves.  If so, embrace the litigation process.     

 

Yourself

 

  1. Know thyself.
  2. Control thyself.
  3. Give thyself.

Socrates, Cicero and the Savior were correct.  This also pays tribute to my fellow Claude W. Pettit College of Law graduates and Polar Bears from Ohio Northern University. 

  1. Work hard.
  2. Play hard.

 

Civil litigation can be stressful, and it is nice to see the recent focus on attorney wellness.  It is truly long overdue in my opinion. 

 

Elliott I. Pinkie is an Attorney at Pinkie Law LLC in Indianapolis.