Abrams: 5 Things I Wish I Had Known My First Year Of Practicing Law

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jeff abrams ibaAfter having the luxury of practicing law for over 30 years and looking back on the first few years of practice, there are several things that I have learned that I sure wish I had known as a young lawyer. Many are common sense, many are similar to the golden rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—and other similar rules of decency that our parents taught us when we were children growing up. I thought it might be beneficial to share some of these thoughts with you as we continue to promote civility among our profession and find ways to educate and train our young lawyers in the practice.

1. Proper Grammar. I occasionally have an opportunity to correct one of my child’s statements in conversation where the use of grammar is like none other. For example, when someone is telling me how he or she is doing something with another person, it makes my skin crawl when they say “him and I went to the basketball game” or “her and I went to the bars last night.” I listen to their statement and interrupt them before they can take a breath or make any other comment and say “Oh, do you mean he and I” or “Do you mean she and I?” I think they get the message but sometimes I wonder.

2. To Tell You the Truth. I find it remarkable that people will be having a conversation, talking about any number of things and out the clear blue they make a comment “And to tell you the truth, I … .” What always rushes into my mind is the obvious question: “So does that imply that half of what you are telling me is not the truth?” If I am working with young attorneys, quite often I will let them know that they should try to avoid using that phrase in their conversation. They do it subconsciously so I suggest they ask their significant other or roommate that they mention to them if they ever hear them use that phrase in conversation.

3. Learning How to Speak in Front of a Group: I have seen attorneys in meetings or in presentations talk as if they were totally unprepared or without any knowledge of topic they were discussing. I really doubt that they were not properly prepared or that they did not know what they should be talking about, but their ability to convey that to a small, intimate group of people or a large group of people is obviously affected in the presentation. I have recommended to attorneys that they consider attending Toastmasters, which meets throughout the city, to help with their oral presentation skills. I am sure there are other groups that also cater to this skill set and would certainly recommend all attorneys take some time to develop these skills. It is critical for attorneys to be able to exhibit the confidence of knowing what they are talking about in making arguments or presentations to clients, potential clients or a judge in a crowded courtroom.

4. You Don’t Have to Win Every Argument. I remember being a young real estate attorney who was trained by brilliant lawyers. I knew everything and had to be right on all accounts. I recall times when I had to prove to other lawyers that I knew everything about whatever we were discussing and that I had to prevail in every point. That approach is not necessarily in the best interest of a client and sometimes can lead to hard feelings. While it is difficult to determine when one becomes “comfortable in their own skin,” the earlier you have the confidence to know when to back down and when to arduously argue is no small task. The sooner that you gain that confidence, the better off you will be in practicing with your fellow attorneys.

5. Help People When You Can. I told a story at my installation about a friend of mine who called me needing a place to stay for a few days since things were not going well at home with his wife. I suggested he come over for a couple of days to get away from the situation. I counseled him on his dissolution, ultimately assisted him with his settlement agreement and was able to preserve his relationship with his children. When he FINALLY moved out five months later, I knew that I had gained a friend for life and that he would always remember what I did for him. He has always recommended me to anybody with whom he came in contact and always spoke incredibly well of me—much better than I deserve and probably far from the truth. While I had no idea that he would be living with me for five months, it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. Given the opportunity, take the time to help your friend when the call comes. There will always be time to finish the work but the time to help a friend is always NOW.•

If it is just as easy to be nice as it is to be mean,
Then why don’t attorneys’ kindness be more routine,
A happy face is so easy to portray and display,
So jump all in with smiles, don’t go just halfway.
Our bar would be so much more pleasurable if we all learned how to speak,
The occasional use of bad grammar is something we need to tweak,
And if I hear one more time “To tell you the truth…”
I may just pour a tall glass of gin and hold the vermouth.


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.