Bar News - May 4, 2007
Morning Mail:An Open Letter to the 2007 Graduating Class
Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part open letter by Charles Holoubek, who has clerked at the Shaheen & Gordon firm in Concord for the past two years. He graduates from Franklin Pierce Law School on May 19, 2007.
By Charles Holoubek
HOW IMPORTANT IS WRITING?
1. What are the most important things that a lawyer can do to make an effective written presentation to a Court?
Edit. Revise. Proof. Repeat as needed.
Seriously, though. Know your facts (and I have heard too many judges complain about that). Research the law well. Apply the facts to the law. Shepherd all cases you or your opposing counsel cite. Then Edit. Revise. Proof. Repeat as needed.
Your facts must be complete and accurate, and your law must be good, but even with that your first draft will never be as good as your subsequent ones. Put up the document and come back to it after working on something else. Read it out loud. Have another attorney proof (for legal reasoning and logic) and a paralegal/legal assistant proof (for grammar and spelling). Sometimes it only take a little extra time to turn an “it’ll do” draft into a polished pleading. Find the extra time if you can.
Remember, just like everything else, you will become known – by judges, clerks, other lawyers, and clients and potential clients – for the level of writing you produce. A lawyer who is known for good, accurate presentations of the law, presented in a well-readable format, will be welcomed and relied upon by the court, and receive more referrals from other lawyers. The better your pleading, the easier it is on a judge to turn it into an order or judgment. Never underestimate the effects of the good will you can build with judges in this simple, but important function.
2. What role if any does oral argument play in deciding cases where writings have been submitted?
If the writing has been good, then the base level of the argument has been fully covered, and the judge can immediately delve into the minutia with the lawyers. If the writing was very good, the lawyer has successfully framed the issues to his/her benefit so that the oral arguments are just an affirmation of the conclusions the judge has already been led to.
Sometimes, though, if the lawyer is prodigious in his/her oration skills (including changing styles for different judges), he/she can take an average pleading and prevail. But if he/she is arguing from a well-written pleading, he/she can really shine (and boy is it fun to watch). Don’t handicap your firm’s star orators with sub-par pleadings; it will not be appreciated/ tolerated for long.
3. Why might lawyers fail to write effective legal argument?
Hopefully, the answer is unanticipated time constraints. If it is lack of skill, they should have gotten more training or taken other action. If it is anticipated lack of time, they are not scheduling effectively or taking on too much work, and need to make changes. Remember, if you cheat a client by knowingly taking on too much work that doesn’t allow you to perform effectively for the client, you are still cheating the client. Not good at all.
4. What should I do if I am not able to write a persuasive argument in a particular matter?
Ask for help. Visit the law library and get better resources and better educated on that particular matter. Hire out the drafting. Or, if all that fails, refer the client to someone who can more ably represent their interests. You owe it to your client to know your own limitations.
1. Why might achieving a *balance* be important to success at work?
Because, although we may like to think so, we are not machines, we are humans. We have emotional, social, and familial needs that if unmet, will affect the quality of work we produce. If your relationship is hanging by a thread because you don’t give your significant other the time and attention he/she needs, guess where your head is going to be when you are staring at a stack of cases? If your kid doesn’t know who you are – you are putting in too much time at the office. If you have some other outside need in your life that is not being met, you won’t be able to give everything you have to the task at hand when you are at the office.
If you find you cannot meet the needs of your family and your job, address the problem, don’t just let it fester. See if you can work out alternatives with your firm. See if you can handle just an hour less sleep a night (if so, use that time to get work done and that could be an extra hour earlier you come home from work everyday). If all else fails, maybe you are not in the right job for your family. Look to government, education, or corporate work (though they usually pay less, each also usually has more friendly hours). Keep your perspective. Work is important, but it is not most important.
Also, we are in a creative business of finding solutions. The more we experience outside of law, the more we can bring to bear on creatively reaching solutions for our clients.
Pragmatically, even though we measure our short term success in hours billed, our long term success will be measured by the quality, not quantity of work we produce. You could just be an “hours’ hound,” and churn them out, but what would your quality be like. (You can get a lot of food for a little money at McDonald’s, but there is a reason people won’t pay much for it. Don’t be McDonald’s quality.) If you do 20% less work, but your quality is much higher, your successes will be more numerous, your reputation will be better, you will be in more demand, and you will command a higher billable rate. Take the time, do a good job, then go home and spend time with the family.
2. What types of strategies could I adopt to insure that I have sufficient time to achieve a *balance* in my life?
In addition to work, identify the other stakeholders in your life and what their needs are (don’t forget yourself). Get out your calendar and schedule your time and make sure you block off enough for everybody. Try as best as you can to stick to it, because relationships atrophy when they are starved for attention.
I am not a believer in “everyone needs their own separate interests” in a relationship. Hogwash. That is wasteful, and in a relationship where time is at a premium, it potentially undermines the stability of the relationship. Make time for “non-work” activities, then include your spouse and family in as many as possible. If you want to hang out with friends, get married friends where you can bring your spouse, too. Church – go as a family. “Fun” activities – bring the spouse and or kids. Community/volunteer activities – get everyone involved.
The point is, work is important, but family is more important. Repeat that to yourself, then reflect it in your actions. If you have to, cut back on work, get a smaller house, drive a less- expensive car, skip the designer suits, scale down the luxuries, but take care that you take care of your family and life outside the office.
Once again, good luck, and drop me a line wherever you end up.