January is a time to think about the future and make new resolutions. Once again, one of our lawyers resolves to be a better dad, husband, and lawyer – in that order. Reflecting on his past to improve his future, here are a few things he has learned so far:
Medical negligence cases are hard. Doctor and nurse friends should know that medical malpractice lawyers actually help improve their professions because of heightened focus on patient safety and that only a very small percentage of potential cases that are reviewed will end up as a lawsuit. To succeed, medical cases demand careful screening, large investments of time and expense, and incredible preparation. Only significant medical mistakes with clear damages will result in a positive outcome from litigation.
You can be over-prepared. Medical texts are thick and heavy. They don’t fit on airplanes very well and hurt your neighbor if you drop them out of the overhead bin.
Airports are painful. Travel is a necessary evil because the best medical expert for your case is inevitably at least 1,000 miles away. Layovers are inevitable too. Storms follow me. I always get “special” treatment from TSA when I have a quick connection to make. And there is no way to get comfortable trying to sleep on an airport floor.
Libraries are free. An afternoon or two in a public or medical library at a university provides a cure for any learning curve.
Kids and court don’t mix. Once, with no option for kid coverage, I reluctantly took my daughters to court. A full courtroom left only front-row seating, where both girls sat in quiet anticipation equipped with legal pads and pencils. My hearing was called first, and I quickly approached the bench, presenting the ex parte order with no argument required. Standing up in the quiet court room, my oldest daughter asked, “Is that it? Is that all you do?” The courtroom was no longer quiet as I waded through the laughter and the tapping of the gavel in time with the clicks of my daughters’ dress shoes across the cold floor and out the door.
Kids and clients do mix. Leaving before sunrise to start a long drive, I was met by my youngest daughter, still in her PJs. “Wait, Daddy,” she said, as she disappeared downstairs. Hours later, I sat on the carpet next to my client’s child-size wheelchair and handed her the teddy bear my daughter sent for her. Smiles at both ends of that trip made the drive worth every minute. Kids bring infectious joy with them while visiting clients in hospitals and nursing homes too.
Lawyers should like living rooms. It is much easier to see your client’s case in their living room than it is in your office.
Be wary of E-Communication. E-mail is cool at first, but can become a quagmire of information overload. E-mail has a cousin. Her name is “FB.” She should be avoided as much as possible if you have strong opinions of any kind.
Writing Elves only come out at midnight. It is not possible to write a creative, coherent, or persuasive brief before midnight. Writing Elves are nocturnal and it is boring before midnight anyway.
Electricians didn’t design courtrooms. Electricians must have gone on strike in 1916 or whenever the Seattle King County courthouse was constructed. Usually, a single electrical outlet lives its solitary life on a wall that is as far away as possible from the gadget I need to plug into it. One can never take too many electrical cords and power strips to court.
Gadgets have gremlins. Gadget Gremlins are the jealous siblings of the Writing Elves. Gremlins are mean, but patient, waiting for the worst possible time to mess up a case or presentation. A long time ago, people communicated with butcher block paper and a marker. That is your plan B.
Radios are overrated. “One Direction” and Justin Bieber songs get old quick. Morning talk radio kills brain cells. “Top 40” refers to the ratio of commercials per hour. Turn the car radio off once in a while. Some of the best lawyering happens when it is quiet.
Focus groups are everywhere. Lawyers love to talk, but hate to listen. People who stay around you for extended periods of time love YOU. If they did not love you, they would leave because they are tired of listening to you. Talking and listening to anyone who does not love you will teach you how to tell your client’s story efficiently and effectively – which is how a jury should hear it.
Hugs. Handshakes are for opposing counsel you like. If your client isn’t hugging you, you are not working hard enough. If you did not hug your child, spouse, significant other, dog, cat, or guinea pig today; you are working too hard.
Help. Asking for it is hard. Receiving it is easy.
Learning. I still learn something new every day. What a privilege we enjoy being able to help clients in bad situations. Clients teach me about hope, fear, dreams, courage, love, life . . . and so much more. I am thankful that I still have a lot to learn and for another year to add more lessons to my list.