Let’s resolve to stay out of the weeds

January 20, 2017
President’s Message By Melaine Shannon Rothey

We are now a month into our New Year’s resolutions – how are they going for you? I certainly hope that you are having more success than I am. While pondering your success, or lack thereof, I have another subject that I want to discuss.

Let’s stay out of the weeds, but how do we do that? As you can imagine, I have a suggestion or two. 

First, do not lie, either to your client or to opposing counsel. There are times, more than we even want to admit, when we get bogged down in work, family, trying to go away for a few days, illness or just stuff. Even in these circumstances, do not tell your client or opposing counsel that you filed a pleading or returned a phone call or requested the documents or left a voice mail/email, unless you did so. Rather, be honest. The best clients and opposing counsel, even those of both categories that are just reasonable-real-people, understand that the day-to-day world is not perfect for any of us and we have real life issues that invade on our “perfect” work lives. As long as you don’t make a habit of it, most people will give you a pass and let you rectify the situation. 

Second, do not procrastinate. Early in my career, when my children were young, I gave up my then-habit of putting everything off until the last minute because it was inevitable that if I did so, one of the children would wake up in the middle of the night with the flu or an ear infection, and I would be calling the pediatrician in the morning for a same-day appointment, while also trying to get an extension from the court or opposing counsel. I know that it is hard for lawyers to believe that having the pre-trial statement finished two days early – instead of 3:30 p.m. on the due date – is an acceptable option. Not only is it acceptable, it is preferable, according to my legal assistant. Give it a try and you will see how happy your legal assistant/paralegal/secretary will be that he/she is not typing with one hand, while eating lunch with the other hand and photocopying with his/her feet. 

Third, take time to smell the roses. I know that I have mentioned this on more than one occasion in the past, but it cannot be overemphasized. We have to take time away from the office. Practicing law, whether it be in a courtroom or a conference room, is very stressful. We spend the whole work day – which is usually well in excess of eight hours – thinking, planning, drafting, revising, talking, conferencing, etc. Most of us do not work from 9 to 5. Rather, we work 24/7. We don’t leave our jobs when we walk out of the office and head to the elevator for the evening. We take our jobs home with us. We dictate letters or answer emails while commuting. We return phone calls in the car with our cell phones on the Bluetooth. We plan strategy in the shower. We wake up in the middle of the night obsessing over our client’s problems. And then, we get back in the car at 7 in the morning and start the process over again. Even if you enjoy your job, there has to be more to life than just practicing law. 

Fourth, do not engage. Taking the high road will always be far more beneficial than playing in the mud. If your client wants you to play games with the other side or take an unreasonable position, refuse to do so. If opposing counsel sends you a nastygram and your initial reaction is to fire back an even-nastiergram, draft the even-nastiergram and let it sit overnight. Read it over the next day, when your blood has stopped boiling, and edit out most of the adjectives and adverbs before sending the response. This is how we gain respect from our colleagues and maintain our reputations as reasonable and ethical attorneys. It is very difficult, even impossible, to repair a poor reputation; however, it is relatively easy to hold onto a good reputation, once you have earned it. 

Again, when I am in charge of the world…