Bar News - March 22, 2013
New Lawyer Column: Counting Down the Top 10 Rookie Mistakes
By: Megan Hertler
During my first few years of practicing law, one of my main goals has been to blend in with my more experienced colleagues. Like many new lawyers, I have done my best to prevent others from catching on that I am at my first deposition, my first hearing, my first trial, and so on. But I have learned there are certain things we young lawyers tend to do, without even noticing, to give ourselves away as rookies.
After an informal survey of a number of New Hampshire attorneys, I have determined that the following constitute the top 10 rookie-lawyer mistakes:
10. Not reading the applicable court rules, or not verifying court locations or mailing addresses.
The rules arenít exactly a suspense novel, but they are worth a read nonetheless. As for court locations and addresses Ė itís good to double check. And then check again.
9. Unconditionally trusting a client.
Itís good to trust, but always verify.
8. Unreasonably refusing to grant a time
Law school training could lead a new lawyer to consider it zealous advocacy to withhold consent for a requested time extension. However, the New Hampshire bar is a courteous one, and attorneys here tend to grant extensions unless there is a particular reason to refuse.
7. Saying "and" or "okay" at the begin- ning of every deposition question.
While this makes for a smooth conversation by providing an acknowledgment of the deponentís answer to the prior question, it also makes for a surprisingly choppy transcript.
6. Forgetting to bring copies of exhibits to depositions.
Be prepared to put the whole deposition on hold to make copies if you do this.
5. Agreeing to the "normal stipulations" at a deposition without knowing what they are.
This is particularly important when taking a deposition in another state Ė as it turns out, in Massachusetts, the "normal stipulations" may not be the same as the ones in New Hampshire.
4. Rambling on the phone with opposing counsel.
As someone prone to nervous chatter, I have learned that itís not always necessary (or advisable) to fill that awkward silence.
3. Overreliance on form pleadings or discovery forms.
These are not always current or on point and they often bear extraneous information (docket numbers, court names, etc.).
2. Failing to read the entirety of a case cited for an otherwise discrete legal principle.
While it may be tempting to copy and paste that perfect language directly into a pleading or an email, itís best to slow down and read the case. Sometimes, that perfect language is a recitation of a partyís position, which the judge thereafter rejects. Sometimes, it happens to be part of a dissenting opinion. Embarrassing.
1. And the number one rookie mistake: Failing to limit or manage client expectations.
In an effort to make clients happy and demonstrate solidarity with a clientís position, new lawyers tend to tell a client what the client wants to hear, rather than what the client needs to hear. This usually results in inflated expectations that lead to disappointment down the line.
Because of a fear of making mistakes, young lawyers actually tend to be over-prepared where it counts, and the mistakes they tend to make are more embarrassing than truly damaging to their cases.
In the end, New Hampshire attorneys are generally good people who will recall their own days as new attorneys, chuckle with (at?) you a little, and move on. Just another perk of practicing in New Hampshire.
Megan C. Hertler is a litigation associate at Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, PA in Manchester, NH. She joined the NH Bar in 2011 and is a member of the NH Bar Associationís New Lawyers Committee.