As I come close to rounding out my first year in the legal profession after law school, I find myself reflecting on all I’ve learned from my colleagues at Balestriere Fariello. Three of those things, which seem intuitive now but certainly were not to me a year ago, come to mind often.
Zealous Advocacy Includes Saying Nothing
In law school, we were taught to pursue all leads and fight to the death for our hypothetical clients — that “zealous advocacy” is what’s required. But nobody really defined that phrase. In classes, we were taught to list all applicable rules and facts and show our work on top of that. We were rewarded, most often, for saying more rather than less. In practice, I’ve learned that saying less can be just as effective — if not more effective — than laying out the litany of reasons why your client’s motion or brief should prevail. When preparing cases for clients, I found myself growing attached to the theory of a case and wanting to chase it down actively at all (academic) costs. But I’ve learned that this, occasionally if not often, is unwise.
My colleagues are tenacious litigators who I’ve seen and heard argue the merits of cases up one side and down the other. I was surprised the first time I saw one of them put down the sword, as it were. Eager to learn about litigation strategy, I asked why they chose to let a certain point rest. One thing became clear: it is prudent to say nothing when saying something would not advance your cause. Whether this decision is made to avoid needless repetition or to do a kindness to (i.e., avoid annoying) the court, I have come to see the value in saying nothing as a tactical decision, even when you want to and could say everything.
Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
The time constraints of the working world, especially at my busy office, are a strong reminder that the law is a legacy. As a newly minted practitioner, it’s easy to find myself swimming in the details of the work. But my colleagues have been kind to remind me not to reinvent the wheel. Almost any type of document I could draft for almost any case has been drafted, in whole or in part, by someone before me — and probably even by someone I work with. This is not only timesaving, but also grounding. Walking in the footsteps of those who have already succeeded is encouraging and totally practical.
Details Are Everything, Always
I mentioned my colleagues are tenacious litigators. They apply this tenacity to every aspect of their practice, whether it be early-stage mock trials or meticulous drafting from the first draft. They have taught me that details are everything, always. They set the bar high, and for good reason. While balancing deadlines, it can be tempting to let little things slide to save the big picture, but this is almost always an error. Any number of metaphors apply, but the most resonant to me is a landslide — one loose stone could result in an entire hillside collapsing. Details are everything, always, especially because litigation teams at my firm are highly collaborative. The work I do, even if a quick internal memo, could turn into the basis for a complaint and a great result for a client. If the details of my work aren’t impeccable, I could be setting up my colleagues or my future self for trouble — or, just as bad, major inconvenience and wasted time.
These three insights are certainly not all I’ve gleaned from the past year in the law, but even if they were, I’d say I was in good shape. Learning to walk in the footsteps of success is an invaluable skill, and one I shall keep learning as I go.
Megan E. McKenzie, a recent graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, works at Balestriere Fariello while her admission to the bar is pending. She works with her colleagues on all aspects of domestic and international complex litigation, arbitration, appeals, and investigations. You can reach her by email at [email protected]