Just the other day, I found myself repeating advice someone had once given to me as a new lawyer. Early in my career, a seasoned lawyer at my firm counseled me, "Read the rules; then re-read them. There is no substitute." As obvious as that guidance sounds, it is great advice and I have passed it along several times.
That incident advice got me to thinking. What have lawyers learned through experience that would be helpful to know as a newer lawyer? What gem or tidbit of knowledge do lawyers wish they had known when starting out in the practice of law? To uncover a potential treasure trove of advice, I asked some lawyers to answer the question, "What do I know now that I wish I had known then?" Here is what I learned.
Scott Harris, a director at McLane, Graf, Raulerson and Middleton, P A, and President of the New Hampshire Association for Justice, offers, "I wish I had been more attuned early in my career to the importance of mentorship. Mastering the skill set of cross-examination, brief writing, and even oral argument before the appellate courts is one thing, but being a credit to the profession is entirely another. The latter is much easier to achieve if you have someone to show you the way."
Ellen Arnold, Associate General Counsel for Dartmouth College, and President of the New Hampshire Bar Association, encourages new lawyers to, "Appreciate that the practice of law is based upon our relationships with people. It is based upon our relationships with clients, opposing counsel, the court, and others. Relationships make a difference."
Kelly Ayotte, Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire, says, "Treat the court, your client, and opposing counsel as you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes. When you make a mistake, be forthright about it, correct it, learn from it, and move forward. It is not about whether you fall down; it is whether and how you get back up."
Kristin Mendoza, an associate at Devine, Millimet & Branch, PA, and incoming President of the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association, recalls general advice she once heard from Margaret Marshall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Kristin shares this advice: "When it comes to achieving all of the personal and professional goals in your life, remember that you can have it all, but understand that you may not be able have it all at the same time. Keep a long-term perspective of your career path. You will be practicing law for the next 40 years. Plan accordingly, take the time that you need to achieve work/life balance, and do not allow others to pressure you into believing that failing to reach the top in your first 8 to 10 years of practice means that there is no place for you in the profession."
Russ Hilliard, a partner at Upton & Hatfield, PA, advises, "Do not hesitate to call to congratulate your adversary on his or her significant victory. It is not a sign of weakness, and does not violate any ethics rules. Having made and received some [of these calls], I find it is often a very rewarding professional experience. Also, do not be quick to accuse the other side of acting in bad faith, or taking an unreasonable position. Convince the judge that the other side’s view is wrong first, and worry about the other stuff (if at all) later. After all, consider that you may be wrong."
Hopefully, hearing these words of advice will help guide us all in our careers. I encourage those of you who have been in the profession for a number of years to share your knowledge, experience, and the "lessons learned" with newer lawyers. Consider it a welcome to the profession.