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Navigating unfamiliar territory

Sarah D. Mann//September 10, 2012

Navigating unfamiliar territory

By Sarah D. Mann

//September 10, 2012

As young lawyers, we are confronted with unfamiliar territory almost daily. How do we familiarize ourselves sufficiently with issues presented to adequately advise and represent our client? What if Westlaw or Lexis research is not enough? What if our supervising attorneys have not dealt with the issue before either? Can we, or more importantly, should we, take the case?

I recently experienced this scenario and found that I was more than competent to handle the matter after a bit of navigation.

First, I familiarized myself with the documents and the law. I asked the client a ton of questions.

Next, I started asking questions of my colleagues at Bodie. Had anyone had a similar case? Given these facts, what would they do? What issues did they perceive? Even though no one had handled a case exactly like mine, the insight and advice were extremely helpful.

After finding that my colleagues had never had such a case, I turned to the Maryland State Bar Association and the Maryland Association for Justice listservs. As usual, these were invaluable resources and a couple of attorneys who had dealt with this issue previously responded to my posts.

There is no magic formula to researching a legal issue. Sometimes Google can be more helpful than the Annotated Code. Sometimes consulting with colleagues is more helpful than Westlaw or Lexis. Sometimes you just need to start making phone calls and asking questions.

The point is, you have to get creative. You have to think outside of the box, especially when your supervising attorneys are unfamiliar with the issue.

After taking on this matter and bringing it to a successful conclusion, I have not only helped my client and broadened my experience, but I have also helped my firm. We now have a formula for handling these types of cases. The research is done and the forms are drafted. When the next one comes in, we will hit the ground running.


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