Top 10 tips for litigators

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Top tips

Last month, the ABA Journal published a series of tips for young lawyers from senior lawyers who participated in the ABA’s Briefly Speaking contest. This month, we’re sharing the next round of advice—this time aimed at litigators and business lawyers. The contest winner in the litigators category was Tasha Blakney with Eldridge & Blakney in Knoxville, Tennessee.

“Be courteous to every single person you encounter in the courthouse, from the security officer who greets you at the door, to the bailiff who assists in the courtroom, to the clerks and the court reporters and everyone in between. When you need assistance—and you will—it is these very people who can make the difference for you between being an effective advocate and a clearly exposed newbie. If you are courteous and respectful to all, you will have advocates of your own when you need help.”

Tasha Blakney
Eldridge & Blakney
Knoxville, Tennessee

In legal writing: Less is always better. Remember your audience is a very busy judge who wants to get to the point quickly. Strive to put your most important arguments first, and state them as succinctly as possible. Revise and revise again, until you have pared away all excess words, phrases and arguments.

Karen Kahle
Steptoe & Johnson
Bridgeport, West Virginia

With clients and juries, don’t forget you are not talking to lawyers. So leave the legal jargon and logic at home and concentrate on what they want to know. Tell stories. Use examples. Be a person.

David Benson
Benson Law Firm

“Never allow your client to be the client and the attorney. They can only play the role of client. If they begin doing their own research and directing you on the law and what arguments to make, you have lost control of the matter and should withdraw to preserve your sanity.”

Deborah Pino
The Law Offices of Deborah Pino
Oakland Park, Florida

“Always break down the legalese to something the client can relate to in another context. Empower the client to make hard choices so he/she can move through the litigation and get to life on the other side.”

Gail Roth
Gail P. Roth, LLC
King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

“Look at your uniform jury instructions on the cause of action(s) and use them to help you draft not only the complaint but also for deposition preparation and discovery requests.”

Michael Schwarz
Law Offices of Michael Schwarz
Santa Fe, New Mexico

“Make it your goal to be the most prepared attorney in the courtroom at all times. Do this and you will always have an advantage over your adversary. Many times over, my laborious preparation for even the smallest and most insignificant of court appearances has provided me with the tools to be more effective than my adversary, which is the key to success in the courtroom.”

Shannon Miller
Maurice Wutscher
Wayne, Pennsylvania

“Be extra nice to the judge’s clerks and judicial assistants. A smile and a friendly ‘good morning’ go a long way. Not only do judges appreciate and expect you to be respectful toward court staff but not doing so could adversely affect your ability to best serve your clients. Ever wonder what the judge and clerk talk about in chambers? If you’ve been rude or nasty, that conversation might well be about you!”

Neal Zaslavsky
Law Office of Neal S. Zaslavsky
West Hollywood, California

“Hard work by a new litigator gets further than an underprepared, more experienced litigator. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. They will likely underestimate you to your advantage.”

Jen Lipinski
Gordon & Partners
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

“Get out of the office. Always visit or inspect the site or the tangible objects that are the subject of the dispute. You will gain infinitely more knowledge by such inspections than you can possibly get from video, photos or documents. It also gives you the upper hand with witnesses who try to lie. It opens leads for evidence that you did not even think of. Also, take a few hours to visit your local courthouse and the clerk’s office. Meet people there, and make connections with the staff.”

Robert Guinness
Guinness & Buehler
St. Charles, Missouri

Top 10 Tips for Litigators

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