Before I became a litigator, I had a lot of preconceived notions of what litigators do. Some were accurate. Most were not. Before going down the road of litigation, you need to evaluate both the pros and cons.
First, the bad news.
Litigation is adversarial. If you hate conflict, don’t expect to enjoy litigation. Your client is either suing someone or being sued. There is no love loss here. The parties often expect their attorneys to be aggressive, sometimes overly so. Expect opposing counsel to come gunning for you.
Litigation is driven by deadlines. There are deadlines for everything. Answers to interrogatories, requests for production and requests for admission. Expert reports and expert depositions. Discovery cutoffs and looming trial dates. Multiply this by 20 to 50 cases, and it’s a surprise you’re doing anything but extinguishing the next fire. Attorneys who are in short supply of case management skills may find these deadlines dictating their practices to them.
Litigation is not like television. Some of us went to law school, in part, because of popular lawyer shows - L.A. Law, The Practice or Law & Order to name a few. It looked pretty cool on television, didn’t it? But art does not always imitate life. The real practice of law is not glamorous. Most of your time is not trying high profile cases. More like it, most of your time is spent in front of your computer, doing research, drafting memos and responding to e-mails. In short, litigation may not live up to your expectations.
You never stop litigating. If you’re conscientious, it’s hard to leave the work at the office. At home, you wonder if you should have asked that extra question in deposition. When you’re out, you worry about whether the motion was filed. You even find that the conversations with your loved ones have turned into cross examinations. It’s hard to leave it at the office.
You will never know enough. It takes time to learn the practice well enough to feel comfortable in your own skin as a litigator. For some it takes 5 years. Others, 10 years. Some never reach a comfort level. It is a long process. You don’t become a litigator overnight.
A lot depends on instinct, and instinct takes time. A lot that is asked of us as litigators requires quick decisions - quick decisions at depositions, at hearings and at trials, to name a few. To make those decisions, we need to rely on our instincts, and instincts take time to develop. As a young litigator, you will second guess yourself a great deal. Only experience puts a stop to it.
Now, the good news.
There’s never a dull moment. Yes there is research to do and memos to write, but litigation is fast-paced and you will get swept up in it. You will plan how to beat the other side and you will use all your wits and heart and energy to see that plan through. All along, surprises and challenges will pop up and you will have to deal with them. It can be a bit terrifying but it certainly isn’t boring.
It’s like a good chess match. The other side wants to win. So do you. He’s making all sorts of moves to take your king, while you defend it, simultaneously trying to take his. For every move there’s a counter move, and nothing is as it seems. You like a good chess match? You’ve come to the right place.
Sometimes, it is like television. Yes, you spend an awful amount of time in front of the computer. Your office is your home away from home. But sometimes you get to venture out. Sometimes you destroy that expert in deposition. Sometimes you knock it out of the park at the hearing. And sometimes, yes sometimes, you actually get to try a case, and, get this, win. Sometimes you are Michael Kuzak from L.A. Law.
It improves with age. Like fine wine, being a lawyer improves with age. The longer you practice, the more your skills improve, the more law you learn and the more comfortable you become with the practice of law. If you get past the fear and uncertainty of the first few years, you will enjoy the fruits of your hard work.
When it comes to litigation, there are good things and there are bad things. If you can learn to enjoy the good and not linger on the bad, you may just make a career of it.