I have been a practicing, officially licensed lawyer now for about eight years. I say "officially licensed" because, like a number of others, I actually stated representing others under the supervision of other lawyers while I was in law school working for my alma mater's legal clinic and a local prosecutor's office. It was while I was in law school and not yet a "baby lawyer" that I attended a lecture by Magistrate Judge Frazier from the Southern District of Illinois. In that lecture, Judge Frazier imparted three simple rules that will allow almost anyone to be an effective lawyer. I have attempted to follow these rules in my practice and I will now share them with you.
1. Don't be a jerk.
2. Know the local rules.
I will get to number three in a moment. For now let's take a look at, what initially, seem to be very simple rules.
Rule Number One seems easy enough to do. Rarely does anyone truly believe they are a jerk. Nevertheless, there seems to be one in every crowd. Here's a simple test: if you are in a crowd and you can't spot the jerk, it's probably you. It seems like such a simple proposition, yet it can still be so difficult to carry out in practice. When another attorney calls and needs a continuance that won't really affect your client, it can be tempting to refuse just to make sure they won't be as prepared as they would normally. However, never forget that, as my grandpa used to say, "It's a you that needs the continuance. Your life as a lawyer will be so much easier by being someone who is regarded as "easy to work with" or *gasp* reasonable. You will also find that you are actually able to get better results for your client because attorneys on the other side of your case will often actually go to bat for you with their clients. Finally, and most importantly for your success as a practicing lawyer, other attorneys will happily refer you work.
Rule Number One applies to your relationship with everyone, but Rule Number Two particularly applies to your relationship with the judges you practice in front of. For those of you that don't know, the all jurisdictions have what are called "local rules." These are the rules developed by the judges for how they want attorneys to practice in front of them. They include rules for scheduling hearings, dealing with temporary and/or discovery issues, all the way down to what to wear and where to sit when you appear before the court. As I stated, these rules are developed by the judges and, not surprisingly, the judges tend to be very proud of their rules and they expect you, the humble barrister, to know them, respect them, and to follow them. Anytime I am about to appear before a court I have never practice in front of before, the first thing I do is download a copy of the local rules to familiarize myself with them. Your esteem with the court will increase exponentially by simply following the local rules.
Finally, Rule Number Three: WHEN IN DOUBT, SEE RULE NUMBER ONE. I cannot stress the importance of simply not being a jerk. Simply being a decent person will get you so far with judges, other lawyers, juries and clients. I am not saying you should not be a zealous advocate for your client, but it should always be tempered with a sense of fairness and decency.
These rules most assuredly over-simplify our beloved profession and will most certainly will not make you a cutting edge lawyer with an encyclopedic knowledge of the law. However, following these simple rules will allow you to enjoy and grow your practice.