ADVICE TO A NEWLY QUALIFIED LITIGATOR 4: THE GOOD STUFF ABOUT BEING A LITIGATOR – FROM NICE LAWYERS

This is the final post in this series. Readers may be best advised to keep coming back to it.  I have asked on Twitter for positive views and contributions about being a litigator. As an incentive there is a prize – LexisNexis are donating a copy of Fatal Accidents.  (Closing date is 8.00 pm the 16th July 2019).  Here are the contributions in the first 15 minutes….  If you are not on Twitter you can use the comments section on this blog.  The best answer will be chosen by a team of experienced litigators (and a Labrador). (As ever the judges’ decision is final, but feel free to complain on Twitter that you were robbed…).

THE QUEST

I set the challenge out in a series of tweet.

“Nice lawyers of Twitter. There will be only one more in the series “Advice to a newly qualified Litigator” and I need contributions from you all. But (& this is a big but) I want advice that emphasise the positive side of the job and how to get the most out of it.

THE CONTRIBUTIONS (SO FAR – KEEP COMING BACK)

 

At it’s best, you get to work with bright, interesting people and solve challenging problems – for decent to excellent pay (depending on specialty). Ultimately for me it’s about the people – clients and colleagues.

Celebrate and savour your successes – learn to accept praise from your client, your seniors and your peers. You will need those moments to fall back on sometimes.

At a risk of sounding twee you can actually make good friends with opponents who become sounding boards and often work mates and strangely the friendship of a strong twitter circle for those 👍 bits of information that no book ever has in it

I do think that your clients will get the best out of you, if you put your best into your firm – always be kind, treat all with respect, and try to be the very best you can be. Partners and staff alike will like to deal with you, and that developed soft skill attracts clients.

I know it’s a different kind of litigation but my clients made every second of my career worthwhile. We’re all human and it’s important to keep that in mind. It can be easy to forget.

Look at your own case as critically as other side’s… get to know important bits in the CPR… encourage early settlement… get exposure to the Courts (not always easy in big firms, but tag along/volunteer)… enjoy being unusual in corp. firms in that you actually look at the law!

It’s a great job, but only a job – don’t forget it. Most litigators are nice people- be one of them. Act in your client’s best interests but respect your opponent. Ask for help when you need it and give it where you can. Don’t be a dick…

The positives: both sides of the profession are incredibly collegiate, you’ll meet friends that will be with you for life. The satisfaction of the wins is a warm glow that sits with you for days, and the buzz of a judgment never diminishes

But there’s nothing quite like that feeling of winning a case on some little nugget of law that you’ve pulled out of nowhere. And telling your clients they’ve won their case… Ugh. You’re making me miss it – STOP IT!

Mistakes can be catastrophic, but few are if identified with honesty and candour. There is a great deal of discretion. Judges on the whole understand mistakes, so do senior partners, they understand less concealed mistakes A file review must be a file review, chargeable or not

It’s a lot better than working with accountants. It really is.

You’ll never be more likely to absorb & learn from an array of peers (each with their own styles) as well as exposed to many interesting aspects of the job that will help you for the rest of your career to deliver the best results for your clients/firm. You’ll never clockwatch 👍🏼

Clients and co workers are fab and infinitely variable. You can never run out of runway, always more to master. Take your turn on the tea round and develop an awesome happy dance for the wins.

Those reasons you give in interviews – I want an intellectual challenge, to  engage with the real world, to make a difference – come true, with a bit of luck and lots of hard work! Your clients and colleagues give you a reason to wake up in the morning.

Be kind; it is a huge privilege to act for people in the most stressful time in their lives. They will want to bore everyone else about their problem but you are the one who can make a difference. Answer your phone always & understand that they need reassurance & understanding

Work hard and you will get the most out of it. Teach and be taught every single day.

Possession is not 9/10ths of the law, preparation is. Easier said than done I know but aim to never take on something you can’t prepare well. Your clients will be happier and so will you.

Knowing you’ve tried to be a sane – & stable mind to someone’s issues, via reasonable, kind & achievable advice – can really halve someone’s stress or sadness! It’s not FireFighting as such, but it can turn around someone’s life at that time… Not all heroes wear capes… ! 😉

It is about upholding the legal profession that is known throughout the world for its outstanding ethical standards. In any area of law you are trusted to help people who need your expertise and to fearlessly promote their best interests. That shared ethos binds lawyers together.

You can and should learn from everyone in and around the profession. Clients, colleagues, opponents, judges, experts and (importantly) yourself. Sometimes you will want to emulate what you see. Sometimes not. Watch, listen, learn, perform. It’s a privilege and enjoyable.

Have a compliments file – you will receive hugely more compliments than complaints. On bad days – there will be some – read it and think of all the people glad of your help.

When you get it right, and you *will*, the sense of pride and achievement is overwhelming. Because getting it right isn’t about luck or who you know, it’s down to sheer hard work and dogged determination. The reward for that is just incredible.

There will be moments of realisation where it momentarily all makes sense, and cases where you know you are fighting for the right outcome. Enjoy them and remember them. Dont be afraid be proud of achieving those successes you work hard for.

Make sure you undertake pro bono work for worthy civil society causes in order to understand the difficulties faced by those who do not have a voice. The best advocate on paper and in court is the one who can empathise and contextualise.

Believe in the essential decency of trying to achieve justice. The truth can be unclear and the law ambiguous. Giving all parties a fair process, hearing and equality of arms is achievable. Be proud of doing what can be done.

“You are helping someone else”

Take every opportunity offered. Can lead to very unexpected / positive results.

Remember that for you it may only be a piece of work, but for your client it’s their life. Next week, you may forget that client for whom you got asylum, a non-mol, protection from eviction or confirmation they suffered discrimination, but they’ll remember what you did for life.

When you strip it all back, the practice of law is fundamentally about interactions between people. If you treat everyone that you encounter the way you would wish to be treated, you can’t go far wrong and you’ll find it a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

“I am a part of all that I have met” 🤲👂👁✍️

Enjoy & be proud of the privileged position you hold. Be humble. Learn to enjoy last minute days out of court by doing something to relax, distract and clear the mind. Always look out for the newly qualified who may need your support.

Listen to the clients. They have the answer to your problems. Mine them until you get to the plum in the coal.

Opportunities to:- * make a positive difference to people’s lives * interact with a wide range of people & emotions in challenging situations * offer hope & help to people who are vulnerable & despairing * secure the resources they need * effect legal & social change

U will have a positive, life changing, impact on the lives of some. Don’t underestimate that. In bad times (which there will be) remember that heartfelt ‘I can never repay what you’ve done 4 me’. You can’t win em all. U will win some & some will give u best feeling in the world.

I cannot stress the importance of non-law related hobbies. Mine are Sheffield United, weight lifting and gaming. 100% required to avoid mental breakdown in my view. Well, Sheff Utd often add to the stress…

On a Q&A panel for aspiring lawyers I shared the truism (to me, but a revelation to them) that you still feel nerves even after 20 yrs+ at it. You just get better at not showing it and channelling those nerves +ly into a ‘performance’. And you never stop learning, constantly.

From early in your career, get involved in outreach/ careers programmes to support the aspiring. Seeing the enthusiasm/drive of those desperate to do what we do makes you realise how privileged we are to do this job. Even on the tough days; those bring out the best in you.

You are a lawyer but also human. Be decent.

I appeared for an individual in capacity to withhold consent case. Instructed at 4:30pm, in hospital taking instructions by 5pm and back in Court for 7:30pm. Case lasted until just after 10pm and Court ordered that individual lacked capacity to withhold consent to assessment

I went back to patient and was asked to sit with them whilst they had the assessments. I did. I held their hand. Got back home just before 3am tired, but feeling like everyone involved had pulled together and got through it. Person was listened to. = tired but satisfied.

Be honest with yourself and honest with your colleagues. This is an excessively stressful job. Ask a lawyer how they are and they will always say ‘busy’, but no one is invinsible to the pressure. When it gets too much seek comfort in supportive colleagues. Get a non Law hobby!

Believe in yourself. Tell yourself you’ve come this far so keep fighting, learning and challenging yourself. Be prepared to make brave decisions and learn from your mistakes. Praise and rewards will follow with patience and determination.

Don’t feel you need to live up to the perception of an aggressive litigator. Instead be assertive & confident. Build a relationship with your team – bounce things off each other, support and laugh together. It’s a tough role but your colleagues will make the hard times enjoyable.

Everyday’s a school day.

I reiterate what others have said. My addition is to keep reading. Your subject area is fascinating and you will be a better lawyer by keeping up-to-date with the latest case reports, statutory activity and article

Don’t believe your own BS. Examine your case and yourself critically. Take the work seriously but don’t take yourself seriously. Laugh. And be as courageous as you can be.

Remember that many talented people operating in the sector are not lawyers and nonetheless add immense value with non-legal aspects of the job. Learn to love business development and bill the time you work. It’s a people business and being personable and decent goes a long way!

Tell people about your hobbies! After a partner from another office had to cancel last minute I was invited on an amazing London to Paris charity cycle ride (worth thousands) because I was the only person at the firm who’d want to ride 500km at 3 days notice

Retain a sense of humour, a sense of proportion, a will to win and a lack of pomposity. Treat people with decency. Observe litigation courtesy. Realise there’s more to a legal career than money. You’ll only get to do this career once. Enjoy it. Make your parents proud.

Do a chronology! I’ve won countless cases because of them. It’s amazing what such highlight. Put a corner on them even if only a single page, so you can always find them in court. And check your printer before you leave for court, just in case. No good to you there!

My crime equivalent is to prepare an extremely detailed history of the case (ie what hearing happened when, directions) – this has helped me several times when the other side were suggesting things that weren’t quite right.

1. Fearlessly defending your client’s position doesn’t require being unpleasant to your opponents. Quite the opposite. Bombastic language is unhelpful 2. Don’t lose sight of the power you hold 3. Reflect on wins and losses 4. Have a hobby outside of work 5. Talk less, smile more

Never forget to be nice. With politeness and good manners underpinning all of your interactions you will get the most out of the job and your clients and colleagues will get the most out of you. PS – if you can do this 10% of the time you’re a better man than me.

Replying to 

It’s a great job, but only a job – don’t forget it. Most litigators are nice people- be one of them. Act in your client’s best interests but respect your opponent. Ask for help when you need it and give it where you can. Don’t be a dick…

You can and should learn from everyone in and around the profession. Clients, colleagues, opponents, judges, experts and (importantly) yourself. Sometimes you will want to emulate what you see. Sometimes not. Watch, listen, learn, perform. It’s a privilege and enjoyable.

Always remember to embrace the challenge and gravity of what you do – even if it seems impossible or scary. After all, every interesting judgment you’ve ever read was an incomprehensible pile of papers on someone’s desk at some point.

The best bit? That moment when it’s done, win, lose or draw, and they turn to you and say, “I’m glad that you’re on my side.”

Don’t call your opponent solicitor incompetent and hopeless even if you think she is. She may be appointed as an Upper Tribunal judge the following week and you will be nervous for the rest of your life when you have a case at the UT.

Be a human being – that’s the strongest thing there is. And eat cheese and ham toasties. They are the best things there are.

You will see life in all its colours. You will laugh and you will cry. And best of all you will genuinely be able to help people at their most vulnerable, which is an honour

Have integrity. Be kind. Read the papers & know your case better than anyone else in the room. Have respect. Give respect. Treat clients how you would like your family to be treated. Enjoy the journey & learn from your mistakes. There is no job like this job. This is the dream.

No matter how talented you believe you are accept the possibility you maybe wrong and the fact there is always something new to learn. Ask questions if you are unsure. No one will think less of you because if they do then they are probably a jerk.

Many congratulations on qualifying. Now comes the easy bit. Putting it into practice. There will be many highs and a few lows and celebrate the former and learn from the latter. Do your best as no one will expect more than that. Enjoy life and best of luck!

Always remember that a client who comes seeking advice from a litigator, will perceive that he/she has a problem. In you they see a resolution to that problem. So sympathise, do not be dismissive. Encourage, or advise them of weaknesses gently. Don’t put yourself on a pedestal.

It is perfectly possible & indeed preferable to be nice, polite and decent to everyone involved in the case.

No two cases are the same, be honest & act with sincerity. You’ll keep learning all the time. I’d reiterate all the above tweets as well! 😁

Be kind. You can be firm for your client at the same time as being polite and friendly. You never know who will be popping up in your legal life. Don’t burn bridges and pick your battles. You don’t have to show up for every argument you are invited to.

Everyone starts somewhere. We’ve all been there. Steal & absorb others’ experience & apply it modestly. Arrogance is a bad look. Look up & see what your client sees, listen to what they want to achieve & be clear from the outset what you can deliver. Be nice-it’s not a weakness

Take the opportunity to learn from the good and the bad you see around you. If people dismiss you as “unimportant” remember how it feels and vow never to inflict it on anyone else. You can lead by modelling the behaviour you want to see.

Remember that your client’s case is the most important thing in their lives at that point, no matter how quotidian it becomes to you. The chance to make a positive change for them is a true privilege. The best reward is your client’s satisfaction.

Enjoy your inner nerd (if you have one). I decided I wanted to be an insurance lawyer after working on a coverage case. It confused the hell out of me but I still find wording and its consequences fascinating.

Don’t forget the very human tendency of people to dig their heels in “over a point of principle”. Which is the root cause of far more litigation than it ought to be.

Whatever you are doing – how big or small – matters to someone. Do a good job. Listen. Take notes. Enjoy the journey.

Don’t specialise too soon! Generalists can see connections specialists can’t (plus they have more fun). Late specialisers are often the most effective – Roger Federer used to play more football than tennis.

Remember that you can be a life changer. Be bold, keep learning and be prepared to stretch boundaries. And if you can empathise with clients – even better. It’s a great job – and as I hav