Saturday, October 25, 2008

Making the Most of Your Next Conference

Before long, you will be attending a voluntary bar association conference or seminar. It will be a great networking opportunity, particularly if you consider the following advice.

Due your due diligence. Before the conference, procure a list of attendees. Reach out to everyone you know either by e-mail or preferably a handwritten note, letting them know you will be there and suggesting you meet for a meal or drinks. Breakfasts are great for networking - they give you a jump on the day and are less expensive than other meals. Leave yourself some time open for impromptu meal plans with new folks you will meet. Also, plan on meeting any existing clients in the area.

Arrive early. Flying in and out of a conference as quick as possible is not productive. Work is work, but to the extent possible, arrive before the first cocktail party and leave after the last one. The longer you are there, the more people you will meet.

Attend everything. Go to every cocktail hour, meal, special event and everything else on the agenda. Arrive early. It is easier to network when there are fewer people in the room. Also, the conference's staff will be there meeting and greeting and will introduce you to the organization's leadership. Also, arriving early does not mean you leave early. Stay until they close the bar.

Target your networking. It is important to meet as many people as possible, but you should also have a plan of meeting three to five specific individuals who will help you develop business. It may be a certain in house counsel, or someone in the organization's leadership. Figure out where they will be, find them and introduce yourself. Treat them to a meal , get to know them and lay the foundation for a long term relationship.

Always be on. Every minute you are at a conference, you have the potential of developing a relationship that may result in business for your firm. Keep that in mind with every interaction you have with everyone you meet. You should always treat everyone the same anyway, so this is good practice.

Follow up with personal notes. After you return home, look at the attendee list and circle the names of those whom you met, had meals with or goofed off with (yes, occasionally playing hooky with another attendee may from the basis of a lasting personal friendship and business relationship). Write them handwritten notes and invite them to look you up if they are ever in town.

Conferences are a great way to develop lasting relationships that may result in referrals. It just takes a little planning to make the most of them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Making Things Right When Things Go Wrong

I hate to tell you this, but as a new attorney, you will make mistakes. In fact, you will make your share of them. No matter how smart you are, or how well your firm trains you, or how closely you are supervised, you will do something wrong from time to time. When you do, its your job to right the wrong. You do that by doing the following:

Don’t brush it under the rug. When you make a mistake it is tempting to hide it from the partner’s view in hopes that it never gets discovered. Don’t ever submit to this temptation. Not only is it dishonest, it can make a small problem into a great big one. That mistake you made today may be one that can be addressed and rectified today. Ignore it, however, and it may grow, and infect the entire case, and the day may come when it’s too late to rectify it. Like a cancer, if diagnosed and treated early, a mistake is often treatable. If ignored, it may grow and spread and damage everything in its path.

Size up the situation. Was a mistake really made, or do you simply think you made one? Before blaming yourself, think through whether a mistake was made at all. If you did make a mistake, consider how big of a mistake it really is. That mountain you’re worried about may only be a molehill. Generally panic sets in when you make a mistake, your imagination gets the best of you and you start planning what life will be like after you get fired. Stop, take a deep breath and rest assured that things will work out. Even if it turns out your mistake was a big one, know that things still will work out.

Think through solutions on how to rectify your mistake. There are few mistakes that cannot be undone. Think through the various options that are available to help you clean up any mess you may have created. This is the time to speak to your mentor at the firm and seek his guidance on how to make things right. Also, it may take more than simply thinking or talking through the problem to come up with an answer. You may have to do some research to find the answer you are looking for.

Face the music. Once you know the scope of your mistake and have devised a way or two or more on how to fix it, go to the partner in charge of that file and tell him what you did and how you plan on fixing it. He will appreciate you owning up to your mistake, even though he may be upset that you made it. He will also appreciate that you have thought of different solutions, even though he is annoyed he has to take up his time to address your mistake.

Your boss gives you assignments to take problems off his plate and give them to you. When you make a mistake, you have managed to not only give him back the problem he gave you, you have managed to make it bigger. The least you can do is come up with a game plan to resolve the new problem you created.

Discuss how best to rectify the mistake. After you’ve presented the partner your proposed solution to your mistake, talk through how best to address the problem. Again, the partner may not think the problem is a major one. Conversely, he may think it is much worse than you think it is. Either way, you need to have a heart to heart to come up with a solution.

Learn from the mistake. Whether it is a big or small mistake, learn as much as you can from it. Maybe you need to learn to take more time when researching an issue. Perhaps you have to learn to probe more deeply in deposition. Whatever the lesson is, take it to heart and learn from it.

Maturity as a lawyer is owning up to your mistakes, figuring out how to deal with them and letting your boss know about the mess you got him into and how you plan on getting him out of it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

How to Prepare for a Hearing in Federal Court

Hearings in federal court are a bit different than ones in state court. First, in state court, judges generally rule on motions at hearings set by the parties. In federal court, hearings are the exception rather than the rule. Most motions in federal court are resolved on the papers. In fact, in federal court you need to request a hearing and the judge, depending on the motion and issues involved, may choose not to hold a hearing, believing that the papers are adequate. If you do get a hearing date, however, consider the following when preparing for that hearing.

Don’t rehash the papers. The judge and her law clerks have read the motions, responses and replies, have read and dissected the cases cited in them and have likely done their own research and have uncovered additional cases. Therefore, don’t start by rehashing what you said in the papers. You’ll bore the judge, and possibly insult her by implying that she has not read what you wrote.

Focus on your theme. Instead of summarizing what you said in your papers, pick out the theme you emphasized in those papers and make that the centerpiece of your argument. If you can’t reduce your argument to a simple theme that explains why you should win, then recouch your argument until you can.

Practice your argument out loud. After you have prepared an outline of your argument, and you have organized all the documents and cases you will be referencing throughout the hearing, close the door to your office, and practice your argument out loud, not just once but three times. In the process of doing this, you will hear for yourself what parts of your arguments work and which parts don’t, and you can make the necessary adjustments.

Be prepared to be interrupted. Treat the hearing like you would an appellate court hearing. The judge is having a hearing as much to allow you to present your arguments as to have her questions answered. When preparing for the hearing, think about the questions you would ask about the facts and the law if you were the judge, and have short, direct answers prepared for those questions.

Keep your composure. There is something about standing before a federal court judge, in her large courtroom, with her federal clerks and assistants sitting nearby. It can be enough to cause the words to choke in your throat. To get over the anxiety, make a point to accompany another attorney from your office to a hearing he is having in federal court, preferably a hearing in front of the same judge before whom you will be arguing. Watch how he presents himself, the arguments he makes and how he answers questions. After the hearing is over, quiz him about how he prepared and why he said what he said and why he made the arguments he made. This reconnaissance will take the edge off the anxiety.

Be prepared and be courteous. All judges expect that the attorneys who appear before them be prepared, professional and courteous. This is particularly true of federal court judges. To meet these expectations, have a hearing binder prepared with an outline of your arguments, annotated to the exhibits and cases that support those arguments, with copies of those exhibits and cases in your binder. Having everything in one place, organized and well thought out, as opposed to combing through a messy file, shows that you are prepared.

In addition to being prepared, be courteous. No matter how opposing counsel behaves, whether he interrupts you, or even insults you, never succumb to his level, however tempting. Don’t take the bait.

Arguing motions in federal court can be nerve racking. To alleviate your fears, do everything you can to prepare, take a deep breath and do the best you can.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Making the Most of the Drive to Work

I spend a half hour driving to work and a half hour driving home. At 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, that is 250 hours each year I commute to and from work. For some of you, it is twice that. That is a lot of wasted time. Learn to make the most of it by turning your car into a resource.

Instead of listening to talk radio or music, consider learning a foreign language or listening to motivational or business books on CD. In 250 hours, you could learn conversational Spanish. You could become an expert in a field. You could hear all the leading business and marketing books to help you get ahead. The most important commodity we have is time and you have to learn to harness every last minute of it and make the most of it.

Now, listening to 250 hours worth of CDs can get expensive. To lessen the cost, consider checking out CDs from your local library. Associations you belong to may have a lending program for such materials. Also, there is a great deal you can download for free or at little cost onto your I-Pod and listen to it through your car stereo. And if you are truly motivated, start a local club with friends where each of you buys certain books on CD, listens to them and then lends them to the others. If you can recruit just four other participants, you will cut your annual cost by 80%.

Time in the car does not have to be wasted time. Decide how to improve yourself over the next 12 months and look for materials you can listen to that will help you reach your goal. You will be surprised just how much your car is an educational tool.