1. Non-lawyer team members hate being called “staff”. They say the sergeants run the Army. Admins and para-professionals run courts and law firms. Be nice to these people. They know what they’re doing, and you don’t. You will get nowhere in your professional life looking down on anyone who doesn’t have the letters ESQ after their name. For you to succeed, everyone on your firm’s team has to succeed. Nobody wants to be part of a team that treats them as being less important or not as good as other people. Treat the non-lawyer members of your team like what they are- valuable, skilled professionals. If you are a new lawyer, it’s more than likely that the legal secretaries, paralegals, and admins know more about the procedural aspects of your own firm and the courts than you do. They are the keepers of a lot of institutional knowledge. If you treat them with respect, they will be an invaluable asset to you. If you don’t- well, maybe you won’t get the message from Judge Whoever to be in chambers at 8:30 a.m., sharp!
2. Some judges answer their own phones. This is a corollary to #1 above. Always treat whoever answers the phone in chambers as if it were the judge. It might be. I’ve had this happen several times. Always be polite. You’ll be happy the one time the judge answers the phone.
3. Get a Maryland State Bar Association Security Identification Pass. I was reminded of this yesterday. While at a hearing in the Circuit Court for Charles County, I met a young lawyer, who has just begun practicing after completing a judicial clerkship. He was lamenting not having a cell phone because the Charles County courthouse does not allow them. However, if you are an attorney and have a state bar security pass, you don’t go through security and may bring in your phone. This is a big deal for lawyers like me, who keep their calendar and contacts on a Blackberry or similar device. The state bar pass is accepted in most courthouses in Maryland and saves a ton of time waiting in line.
4. If you don’t know, ask. Everybody was new once. Most lawyers are more than happy to share their experience with new members of the bar. We all gain by raising the level of competence of the bar as a whole. First, look for help within your firm. If that doesn’t work, find a lawyer who is likely to know the answer and give them a call! If they aren’t willing to talk to you (which won’t happen), call me!
5. Polish your shoes. I read in Jay Foonberg’s How to Get Good Clients and Keep Them that there is an easy way to spot the good lawyers when you go to court. Look around. The ones who look sharp, put together, and polished are more likely to be skilled attorneys. Perception matters.
6. Join a professional association. This is a valuable way to make contacts, gain referrals, and keep up your level of professional knowledge. You will generally find that the lawyers active in some form of professional association are more informed, more successful, and better regarded within the legal community. For new members of the plaintiff’s bar, the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association has a rejuvenated Young Lawyers Section.
7. Never sign in black ink. This makes it hard to tell the original from the copies. Blue ink stands out on the original so you won’t get confused. When you accidentally file a copy in place of the original or mail the original out when you should have kept it, you’ll remember I said this.
8. Get a date-stamped copy. Sometimes there can be a lengthy delay between filing a pleading with the clerk and it making it into the docket entries or the court file. This can be a lifesaver if someone thinks you missed an SOL or summary judgment deadline.