21 Pieces of Advice for (New) Lawyers
When I started in practice, I often received unsolicited tips and advice from more experienced attorneys. I was generally receptive to this, though often skeptical about whether they really knew how things were NOW. After all, some of these attorneys had been practicing for 50 years, which meant they started practicing in 1932! Like, at the beginning of the Great Depression.
So I listened, knowing there were some truths being told, but doubting they would apply to me, in modern day 1982. Many, many times I knew better, kept my own counsel, and handled my clients and my practice as I thought best.
Well, law practice is one tough go. Experience may be the best teacher, but it sure can be painful. Hard lessons get learned, sometimes over and over and over. The old-timers tried to tell me.
So now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can humbly say…
They were right!
Here are some things I wish I had understood clearer and earlier. I am sharing this list, even though when I started in practice ..…
There were no faxes, no internet, no Fedex, no cell phones, very little word processing, and many other Stone Age aspects of practice. Those Depression Era lawyers were doing fine in the 1980’s, just as I am still at it today. Those lawyers were correct in telling me:
1. The best cases are the ones you turn down. Say NO when you should.
2. You make more money in the office than in Court.
3. Judges who never practiced can be dangerous to attorneys.
4. Venue is very important, even in non-litigated matters (ie – if you will have to travel a lot, it may not be worth it)
5. On a new matter, pay attention to who your opposing attorneys will be.
6. You may trust what your client tells you, but protect yourself and verify things.
7. Getting retained is not that hard. Getting subsequent payments is much harder.
8. Many potential clients simply cannot afford to pay for proper legal services.
9. Making good referrals is even more important than getting them.
If a client seems nuts, they ARE nuts. Trust your gut.
The Court system is VERY political. The Judges are not there on merit. They are there because of politics.
Truth is WAY stranger than fiction.
People rarely show appreciation for what you have done. Get used to it.
If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said.
Take detailed notes. You may have a great memory, but at some point you will forget more than you can imagine.
Confirm and re-confirm appointments. It’s worth it.
A case being proposed on a contingency fee is like a three-legged stool. The legs are liability, damages and collectability. If any of the legs is weak, the stool falls. You should avoid those cases.
If a client wants you to “just send a letter”, this never works out. Have a Plan B and be prepared to have the client ready to pay to implement it.
Return phone calls promptly.
If you run into a problem on a case, don’t get paralyzed. Take action. I hope these law practice nuggets are as helpful to you as they should have been to me.