I recently celebrated my ten-year anniversary as a member of the Florida Bar. I remember that day like it was yesterday, getting sworn in by Judge Casanueva from the Second District Court of Appeal, a judge I hold a great deal of respect for. It was one of the best days of my life.
Fast forward to today, 10 years later. After many clients, many court battles, many good days, and some bad days in between, here are the lessons I have learned, many of them learned the hard way:
- When the case is done, your job is over. Early in my career, after I would try a case and the judge took the case under advisement, I would replay everything in my head over and over again, needlessly stressing myself out. Winning is always great but the most important thing to me is to know that I did the best I could and left no stones unturned.
- Focus on the process. You have no control over the decision the judge or the jury might make. That’s their job. The job of the trial lawyer is to present the best case he or she can and then turn it over to the judge or jury. I have learned that it’s a lot easier and a lot less stressful to take it one motion at a time, one hearing at a time. Handling it in bite-sized pieces makes it all easier.
- Always be respectful to the Court. Sometimes this can be challenging, especially when a judge rules against your client and is rude about it. That’s alright – it’s why we have appellate courts. It is important to maintain your integrity as an officer of the Court, even if you disagree with the merits of the particular decision. If your client wishes, file an appeal and work to get the decision reversed.
- Work hard to build good relationships with your opposing counsel. Although the trial lawyer has a job to do to advocate for the client, it pays dividends for your client to have a good, professional relationship with your opposing counsel. This does not mean that you ever sacrifice the client’s interests but a good relationship with the other side can benefit your client’s interests. For example, you never know when you may need an extension of time to file a pleading or to respond to discovery requests, just to show a couple of examples.
- Pick a hero. For a long time, one of my heroes of the law has been former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson. While you know that you will not live up to their accomplishments, it can be inspiring to have a role model. It gives you a standard of excellence to strive for.
- Theme Your Workdays. I have learned that, especially with the demands that a busy litigation practice puts on your time, it can be helpful to “theme” your days. For example, you could try to designate Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for your court hearings, depositions, and mediations, while reserving Mondays for heavy paperwork and Fridays for phone calls. This helps impose organization on your busy schedule and makes it easier to manage.
- Be careful with client selection. Attorney-client relationships are built on trust. If you can tell that you and the potential client will not work well together, do not accept the representation. It is important that the lawyer and client remain a strong team throughout the litigation to achieve a successful outcome in the case.
- Keep a balance. A busy litigation practice can be very demanding of the trial lawyer’s time. At some point, you realize there will always be another case and another courtroom battle to be had. It is important to focus on your priorities in life and make sure the way you spend your time is aligned with those priorities.
For me, I enjoy taking weekends off and spending that time with family and friends and doing other activities I enjoy like reading, writing, fishing, and dancing. I have learned the importance of finding balance and rest and recovery. Otherwise, you run a major risk of burnout and health problems. Incorporating periods of rest and recovery into your weekly schedule helps set up the busy trial lawyer for a long-term fulfilling career.
- Find an area of law you are passionate about. There are so many different areas of the law and I have found it incredibly helpful to focus on the areas I am passionate about. Who wants to show up to work every day when the work is boring and dissatisfying?
In my case, I am passionate about saving peoples’ homes and fighting for consumers who have been taken advantage of. It makes me feel that the time I spend on the cases is going toward a good cause. At the conclusion of the case, assuming a positive outcome, I feel great about the work we did and it inspires me to keep coming back, day after day.
- Assemble a great team. Litigation is a team sport as is running a business and it is critical that you work with people you respect and trust. Who wants to work with people you cannot stand or who are not in all the way for your firm’s mission and priorities? Of course, I come at this from the perspective of owning your own practice where you have the privilege of assembling your own team.
- Learn to delegate. I was going to keep this list to 10 items but I have to include this last one because it is so important, at least in my eyes. It is exceedingly difficult to handle complex, time-consuming cases when you are doing all of the work yourself. It is critical that the busy trial lawyer learn to delegate and focus on the work where the lawyer brings the most value. This will mostly be the development of legal strategy, complex pleadings, legal memos and briefs, court hearings, depositions, and mediations. This also helps to make sure the work gets completed in an efficient and organized fashion.
There are so many more I could add and these are obviously my own observations a decade in. I am sure in another 10 years the list will be different as there are still many lessons to learn.
Ryan C. Torrens, Esq.
Consumer litigation attorney