But the truth is that working with talented associates on our own terms, freed of the constraints of big-firm bureaucracy and nonsense, has been one of the greatest pleasures of opening a small firm. We've been extremely lucky in the people we've hired — they're hard-working, smart, curious, and have a good sense of humor, all of which are essential.
Yesterday I had a really good day — because I got to take one of them (a young attorney with us for about three years) out for drinks and make her partner. She's our first attorney made partner internally. I also got to counsel another young attorney who has worked with us part time during law school and his bar study, and who was just sworn in this week, about his first solo court appearance today.
I expect great things from our new partner — she's fearless. I also expect great things from our newest attorney. This, more or less, is what I told him about being a litigator when he asked for advice about his first appearance:
1. Don't think about being the best lawyer in the room. Think about being the best prepared lawyer in the room. Being the "best" lawyer in the room comes from a variety of factors, including experience and raw talent and even silly things like looks. Being the best prepared lawyer in the room is achievable right now, and is the most reliable road to success for the client. Preparation frequently beats raw talent — and it ought to.
2. Stand straight, speak clearly and firmly and unapologetically, and act like you deserve to be there — because you do.
3. When a partner sends you to court on a case, no matter how well prepared you are for the issue before the court, sometimes an unexpected issue will come up. "I don't know," followed by nothing, is not an acceptable answer to a judge. "I don't know, but I can give you an answer in ten minutes," or "I don't know, but I can report back to you later today," or "I don't know, but I will take responsibility for a supplemental filing answering the court's question — is tomorrow soon enough?" are acceptable answers.
4. When you stand up in front of a judge or a jury and try to persuade them of something, you've got to believe in something. Believe that you are in the right on the point you are arguing. Believe that our client is in the right in the case. Believe in your role in a system that resolves disputes by allowing everyone to have an advocate who is in their corner, fighting for their interests, no matter who they are. Don't get up and phone it in without believing in anything. Judges and juries smell indifference and going-through-the-motions.
But just in case, I'm ready to go bail him out.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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