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Green and enjoying the unforeseen

Many of us, including me in my first blog post, have talked a great deal about how challenging it is to be a young lawyer. However, we tend to overlook the moments when being young and green has worked to our advantage.

Just last week I had my first criminal trial (my repertoire mostly consists of civil trials and my own traffic citations). I was clueless as to how to proceed with this new matter handed to me a couple weeks before trial in an area of law that was foreign to me. I called the assistant state’s attorney assigned to my case, admitted to him my inexperience and looked to him for advice. He told me exactly what pleadings to file, what evidence to ask for from the state and what my client should most likely plead. He familiarized me with the potential penalties and informed me of other fundamentals within these types of criminal matters but comforted me with the fact that we were scheduled to be in front of a fair and reasonable judge, so the chances of a probation before judgment were pretty good.

At the hearing, he made me sound like a pro in front of my client and informed the judge he would not be objecting to the PBJ I had yet to ask for. After I recited my spiel, the judge smiled at both of us, granted my PBJ, enthusiastically announced her love for happy endings and let the prosecutor call his next case.

I had a similar moment at the conclusion of one of my first motor tort trials. I had properly identified and authenticated photographs of my client’s vehicle, and after marking them as plaintiff’s exhibits one through four, I sat down and nodded at the defense counsel for her to present her case. The lawyer stood up and said, politely, “I have no objection to any of the Plaintiff’s exhibits, so Ms. Potdar you may make your motion to move them into evidence at this time.” My heart thudded as I had obviously forgotten to enter my neatly labeled photographs into evidence and therefore risked the possibility of the judge having to make a decision without seeing my client’s property damage. I profusely thanked opposing counsel after our trial and invited her out for a drink later that evening.

My friend who handles CINA (Children in Need of Assistance) cases was recounting a similar experience. She said how grateful she was for the older lawyers at the juvenile court who tend to look out for her and teach her things even though they are opposing counsel. Not to downplay all the hardships we encounter as young lawyers, but a lot of times we are assisted by the mature and seasoned professionals in our business just because of our lack of experience and their genuine desire to help new members.

One of the veteran attorneys from whom I seek advice shared with me his own experience as a young lawyer.

“I had a judge help me once and I’ll never forget it,” he said. “It was a violation of probation hearing, and the advice of rights to give the client is different from the typical one you would give in a DUI, for example. I think the judge sensed I was clueless so, he asked, ‘Counselor would you like to advise your client or would you like me to?’ What a relief! Of course I let him do it and then heard all the things I would have mistakenly omitted.”

Finally, we must remember to give back after we have earned a few notches on our belt. I had an opposing counsel who was moving to transfer the venue of my case. I had to let her know the rule she quoted in her memorandum of law was incorrect and told her where she could find the correct rule. (Obviously, I came back with an awesome opposition to her motion and won, so that helps in the ‘giving-back’ process).

So, my fellow young lawyers, leave the ruthless and cutthroat mentality to those Wall Street folks. Graciously accept a helping hand and pass on the good deed when you are in a position to do so.