When I began my legal career I anticipated that all lawyers, or at least the ones with a license to practice, would be competent and professional. Reality check – some lawyers toe the line of competency and professionalism quite well. Yet, even those who push the line of bad lawyering have provided me with valuable insight. For example:
(1) If the court’s Bailiff tells you to have a seat and he or she will get the judge for you, then have a seat. Ignoring the Bailiff and walking directly into the judge’s chambers will definitely make you unforgettable, and not in a good way.
(2) Telling opposing counsel that you “must have forgot to put it on your calendar” is not a viable excuse for failing to appear at a final hearing, especially when you scheduled it with the court.
(3) Don’t ask opposing counsel for information that is obviously contained in a pleading or answer – it just makes you appear incompetent.
(4) A hearing is not a social gathering – exercise the appropriate courtroom behavior. Interrupting opposing counsel during his or her direct by shouting their first name across the courtroom (as if you were at a bar), waving a document around in the air, taking said document to the judge (without asking to approach the bench), and saying in a sing-song voice that you would like to into enter it into evidence “too” is not appropriate courtroom behavior (not to mention fails to follow any rules of evidence).
(5) Providing a proposed order a month or more after a hearing does not fulfill your promise to the court to provide it “immediately” and “right away.”
(6) Never deny receiving a letter or any other important document when the return receipt shows your signature for the said items mailed to you.
(7) Your reputation in the legal community will stay with you – forever. The Dean of my law school said something similar on the first day of orientation. It couldn’t be more true in practice. If you have a reputation for being an unprepared lawyer, everyone will know, especially judges and their staff.
If anything, these moments of observing bad lawyering have reminded me of the oath I swore to uphold and the vital importance of upholding that oath. For each instance of bad lawyering there are at least twice as many instances of good lawyering. However, it’s the bad lawyering that people seem to remember most. Thus it is incumbent upon young lawyers to uphold the integrity of our profession. Find the humor and the lesson in each unfavorable moment but always conduct yourself in a manner honorable to yourself, your clients, and your profession.