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The Young Litigator: Advice on Building a Successful Career

By Caitlin Haney, Litigation News Associate Editor – August 2, 2012

One cannot open a law-related publication without being reminded of the impact of the economy on the law profession. Even law schools are under attack for inflated claims of employment as more and more new lawyers find themselves hanging out a shingle out of necessity as opposed to choice.


According to statistics gathered by the National Association for Law Placement, 44,258 law school graduates entered an already oversaturated legal market in 2010. Even for attorneys in a law firm, increased internal competition coupled with clients’ reluctance to pay the cost of going to trial creates pressure to distinguish oneself as a competent litigator early in one’s career.


A litigator cannot fully succeed in the business of law without the ability to gain and manage clients, write persuasively, and conduct a trial. Luckily for new attorneys, The Young Litigator: Tips on Rainmaking, Writing and Trial Practice compiles the resources they need to build the foundation of a successful litigation career.


The Young Litigator is published jointly by the ABA Section of Litigation’s First Chair Press, whose mission includes publishing books of interest to young lawyers, and the Young Lawyer Leadership Program. The Young Litigator serves as a “best of the best” of hundreds of how-to materials from Section of Litigation newsletters, journals, websites, and other sources. The result is 37 resources amassed in a single, easy-to-access paperback. 


The book is a useful reference tool for the young litigator committed to becoming a valuable asset to clients and employers. The articles are organized into sections on rainmaking, writing, and trial practice. Longer articles that explore issues in depth help orient attorneys facing a problem for the first time. For attorneys more familiar with a topic but wanting a quick refresher, shorter articles outline relevant considerations in helpful checklists. 


The first part of the book demystifies perhaps the most important part of being a successful lawyer in private practice: rainmaking. Articles here provide guidance on building a professional network through healthy mentor relationships, community and alumni associations, and social networking.


This section warns against a variety of pitfalls, from committing ethical violations to creating a relationship of dependency with superiors, the latter of which is particularly likely to arise in a litigator’s early years. It also includes tips for creating a successful business plan, a process that should begin prior to law school graduation, and, which, if followed, should help the diligent young litigator take control of her career.


The second part of the book reminds litigators what they learned in their legal research and writing classes. Encouraging readers to avoid the temptation of “sounding like a lawyer,” the articles include dozens of tips for writing with clarity and persuasiveness.


The final section explores general trial practice. It includes practical advice on planning, preparing, and working within a trial team. Authors share their own (often hilarious) stories of failure and success that illustrate the unpredictability of litigation. 


Pragmatic discussions of proper courtroom etiquette give young litigators the tools they need to build good working relationships with the judge, courtroom staff, and opposing counsel. For example, something as simple as having your up-to-date calendar information at court so that you may schedule future hearings conveys both your preparation and a respect for the time of the court. Articles on persuasive oral and written advocacy are included in subsections on oral argument and motion practice.


Although the book provides valuable advice, there are some areas where it could be improved. In general, the book is directed toward attorneys on the “traditional” path. This assumes that readers will not only be employed, but also be employed in a more traditional law firm setting. This is an assumption that, sadly, may no longer reflect reality for far too many recent law school graduates.


Some of the subsections further appear to assume the young attorney will be working in an environment with substantial resources. Attorneys working in government or non-profit work, as well as lawyers who are unable to find work and instead are forced to go out on their own, are often faced with financial constraints that the book appears to ignore. Inclusion of some content directed toward making the most of a modest budget would round out the offering and increase the potential audience.


Those minor criticisms aside, client cultivation, writing, and trial advocacy remain essential skills for all litigators. Thus, even the experienced litigator is likely to find valuable new (or perhaps just forgotten) advice in The Young Litigator.


First Chair Press, The Young Litigator: Tips on Rainmaking, Writing and Trial Practice (ABA 2011), available at the ABA Web Store or by calling 1-800-285-2221.


 

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