Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

A lawyerly lesson from the great outdoors

Gen-JD-whitakerA couple weeks ago, I camped with my family at the primitive Slough Creek Campsite in Yellowstone National Park. It’s no secret, however, that I’m a horrible camper and this was not an ideal vacation.

I slept in the minivan every night. I drove 20 miles to use a respectable restroom with a sink. And I dreaded having to pump my own water just to brush my teeth. After surviving without flushing toilets or showers for four nights, I was glad to be reacquainted with modern comforts, such as plumbing and electricity.

But I still learned something on my trip. One night, we had a contest to see who could light a fire faster with a magnesium, flint-stone fire starter. After minutes of huffing and puffing, blistered hands and exasperation, no one succeeded. Throughout the whole “Survivor”-themed fire starting competition, though, our campfire burned brightly behind us. We had started it with a lighter.

I think there’s a tendency among young lawyers to struggle in silence with problems that we don’t know how to solve on our own. But as lawyers, we have a number of resources at our disposal.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. One of the first things I learned in private practice was to never draft pleadings from scratch. There’s hardly ever an occasion where you’ll be drafting an original pleading no other lawyer has ever attempted. Check for forms and checklists in practice manuals and legal databases. Ask other lawyers if they’ve ever drafted something similar.

Whether it’s due to my pride or fear of embarrassment, I’m guilty of taking way too long to figure out problems on my own before asking for help. Often, other attorneys are more than willing to share their wisdom and knowledge. If you can’t find an answer to a question after thorough research, reach out to a mentor or a listserv. Be sure to explain the steps you’ve taken to find the answer to show you’ve done your due diligence. People are far more willing to share their expertise if they see you’ve taken the time to research the issue and are still struggling. Be sure to provide enough background information for someone to offer a relevant response.

Whether you’re drafting a motion in your office or building a fire at a campsite, work smarter, not harder.