When I first came out of law school, I clerked for a judge and received a certain kind of training, mostly in how to draft an opinion and how the judge wanted to say things. Since I clerked at an appellate court, this training was laid-back. There was also time to revise an opinion or do some extra research to make sure to nail down a point. More importantly, I also received training in how to interact with a judge and his colleagues, as well as other clerks.
I learned that being a good colleague and fellowship are very important — show up at birthday lunches and happy hours, contribute to causes in the office, dress casual for a cause when it’s important to someone else in the office. These are things that seem small but really matter in terms of a workplace.
When I moved to a law firm, I took the lessons about colleagueship and fellowship with me and found that they can apply even more forcefully in a private practice setting. I also, for the first time, received training about how to be a lawyer.
This, of course, encompassed a million little things — checking in with the clerk at a scheduling conference, asking the judge if you can be excused when your matter is complete and format and styling for pleadings and papers. Again, these were — and are — all important things. Most important, though, was the approach of the attorneys for whom I worked. There were four of them, and to a man, they told me directly that they wanted me to be a “lawyer’s lawyer.”
At first, I didn’t know what that meant. I learned quickly, though, as I was permitted to handle cases with some supervision and run into all of the problems that come with handling cases. For example, I remember a court date approaching for some small matter before the judge and noticing that opposing counsel had still failed to provide discovery responses even though it had been over 30 days. I went to the chair of my group before the hearing and asked him if I should mention it to the judge.
“No way,” he said. “You’re a lawyer’s lawyer. You mention it to opposing counsel after the hearing. You don’t waste the court’s time with something trivial. If he won’t produce it, you can file a motion.”
A “lawyer’s lawyer,” I came to understand, is someone who works well with opposing counsel outside of the courtroom. This is true regardless of how hotly contested the matter inside the courtroom may be.
I write about this now because in the last two weeks, I have had two encounters in open court with two young lawyers that have surprised me.
In the first, I spoke with the younger attorney handling the matter before we went into the courtroom for a status hearing and to set a date a few weeks down the road to return to court. We discussed and agreed that we would pick a Monday since that worked with my schedule and his was open, although he preferred a Thursday. Much to dismay, when we were before the judge, this attorney requested a Thursday.
What changed? I spoke with the younger attorney outside of the courtroom, but in the courtroom, this attorney’s boss was present. Perhaps he hadn’t told his boss about our discussion and she told him to ask for a Thursday. What I fear, though, is that he told his boss about our discussion and she told him to request a Thursday anyway, simply because that was their preferred date and it might inconvenience me.
The second incident is more troubling. I went before the court to try to correct a clerical error made by me and my office in a filing. Again, a younger attorney was on the other side of the case and was in court that day with her boss. I spoke with the younger attorney before we went before the court, informed her of the clerical error I had made and of my intent to request permission to make the correction. She nodded, told me she understood and did not say anything with regard to her position on the matter.
We went before the court. I made my request, and the judge looked over at opposing counsel to get her take on whether or not my request should be granted. The younger attorney then told the judge that the document had been filed under penalty of perjury and that I should not be permitted to make the correction.
I was flabbergasted. Luckily, the judge seemed to catch it and on the record, noted that I had indicated a clerical error had been made as opposed to a misrepresentation. Clearly, this was not perjury. Again, this younger attorney’s boss was in court with her, and perhaps he is the one who instructed her regarding that argument. I don’t know.
Either way, it is — I think — a violation of the most basic rules of professionalism to make an accusation like that in open court knowing full well it is incorrect.
Don’t get me wrong. I encounter plenty of what I consider to be well-trained lawyers on a regular basis. I was just shocked by the callousness and the seeming lack of training with these two young lawyers in the last couple of weeks.