By Mag. Tiffany U. Vivo, Marion Circuit Court
This article originally appeared on the Family Law Section website. To read more section articles, go to indybar.org/fam!
The Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910. Its motto, “Be Prepared,” was coined by a British Solider, Robert Baden-Powell, who explained the motto in his article for Scouting for Boys in 1908 as, “to be prepared means ‘you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.’”
Borrowing from Mr. Baden-Powell, if I were to craft a lawyer’s motto, it would be something like this: “To be prepared means you, as a lawyer, are, in all client matters, to be in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.”
I’m not going to dwell on the “duty” part of this proposed lawyer’s motto. Rather, below discusses what it means to be “prepared” as a practicing lawyer and how the lawyer’s motto applies to the real-world practice of law.
Readiness in Mind
The practice of law is a time-consuming endeavor. A hearing or trial takes many hours of preparation. Drafting, revising and negotiating agreements can take hours; even days or weeks depending on the complexity of the case. Being prepared requires a commitment to time and effort. Whether consulting with a prospective client for the first time or trying a case for days, devote the time it takes to excel. Your client deserves it, the court deserves it and the profession demands it. The work lawyers do is important, and there is no substitute for the time, effort and skill required to practice law. No matter how skilled a writer or orator you are, great lawyers are well-prepared lawyers. Judges know when a lawyer is “winging it” as opposed to the lawyer who has put in the time and truly knows their case.
Know Your Client
This means a lot more than just remembering your client’s name. Take the time to understand your client’s needs, objectives, limitations, resources and anxieties. If you have ever been treated by a nurse or doctor with a terrible bedside manner, you should appreciate the impact aloofness has on a patient’s, or in a lawyer’s case, client’s confidence in the practitioner.
Know Your Law
Good lawyers know the law and that provides many advantages for everyone. Well-prepared trial lawyers who know the law are more likely to get cases settled. There are fewer motions, shorter hearings and a clearer focus on issues that matter. Good lawyers, because they know the law, know the likely result of a particular case and they get there quicker.
Know Your Facts
We’ve all been taught that you don’t ask a witness a question unless you know the answer. It is a waste of time and it’s frustrating for a judge when a lawyer does not know the facts of their case or a lawyer essentially conducts discovery during a hearing or trial. Good lawyers know the facts of their case, both its strengths and its weaknesses. If you and your opposing counsel know the facts, discovery becomes more focused, your chances for settlement increase and you’re likely to have shorter hearings.
Be on Time
We’ve all experienced a flat tire, a child who wakes up with a fever, or other situations that are unexpected and out of our control that affects getting to the courtroom on time. Life happens. Surprisingly, however, there are far too many lawyers who fail to get to the courtroom several minutes early before a scheduled hearing. Being prepared requires you to be on time.
Get in Shape
This does not mean you need to run the mini-marathon every year or subject yourself to a demanding workout routine. However, you need to get good sleep, eat properly, dress properly and present yourself well to your client, opposing counsel and the court. It is easy to allow the daily grind of law practice to wear you down. Standards drop and so do professionalism and performance. Whether fresh out of law school or celebrating three decades in practice, it is important that you think and act sharp as a lawyer. Being prepared means you are mentally and physically ready to complete tasks for your client.
It is an honor to be a lawyer and the points raised in this blog are applicable to young lawyers, seasoned lawyers, judges and staff. We owe it to the profession and especially those we serve (clients and litigants) to be prepared.•