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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. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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