Welcome to the Bar: Things I Wish Someone Told Me Edition

Post authored by Alexander Passo

Given that there are now another 1,000 (give or take) new Illinois attorneys in the past month, I thought a quick article on some tips may be a good idea.  This isn’t a typical nuts and bolts article and is assuredly not exhaustive.  However, when drafting it, I thought about items which are never really discussed or written about that I wish someone would’ve told me.

Below are the top 25 things I wish someone had told me when I was a new lawyer:

1. Plaintiff’s table is the closest to the jury box, or if the jury box is facing counsels’ table, then it will be closest to the judge’s bench.

2. Plaintiff’s counsel stands facing the judge to the judge’s right.

3. The party bringing the motion has the opportunity to argue first.

4. If you practice in Cook County and have an active court schedule (2-3 days a week), you may want to invest in some carbon paper.

5. What is this carbon paper and why do I need it, you may ask? For most status hearings and non-substantive motions, you will be filling out your own order for the judge to enter.  The carbon paper is used to make duplicates.

6. Everyone has different styles of drafting orders; but, I typically open with “This matter coming to be heard before this Court on its premises, with good cause being shown, it is hereby ordered.” You can then itemize the judge’s rulings.

7. When responding to arguments in a brief, remember to hit every substantive argument.

8. Don’t cite cases – even for general items like the elements or standard of review – if the holding is not in your favor in your pending case.

9. Don’t reinvent the wheel on written discovery or other common documents. Ask for precedent or search the law firm’s server for an example.

10. Pick up the phone before shooting off a 201(k) e-mail or letter. Some disputes are resolvable.  My caveat to this rule is if opposing has just ignored discovery outright; then shoot a letter and set a date for responses.

11. Don’t threaten to bring sanctions at this stage of your career before talking to someone.

12. Don’t let opposing counsel scream at you. Nor should you scream, mock, or act uncivil to opposing counsel even if they’re insufferable.  Take the high road.

13. Follow the Court’s orders regarding discovery (or in general) or request leave for extensions. Don’t blow deadlines.

14. Prepare your witnesses for their depositions. Go through the standard questions; make sure they review their interrogatory and request for production responses; show them potential exhibits; advise them that discovery is very broad and that even if you object there is a 95% chance that you cannot advise them not to answer.

15. Don’t object 4 million times when defending depositions. However, do it when it is appropriate and state the actual basis rather than stating form.  It is good practice for trial.

16. There are two types of depositions in Illinois – discovery and evidence. You can actually do discovery first and then proceed to take an evidence.

17. Be cognizant of the time you spend on a file. However, document all of it and let a partner determine whether to reduce it.

18. Focus on skill development; but, start thinking about how you may be able to pick-up clients later on in your career.

19. Most mistakes are fixable – besides blown statutes (don’t miss deadlines).

20. Be kind to staff. Learn what tasks they have experience with and don’t be afraid to delegate work to them.

21. Don’t rely solely upon your paralegal or secretary to docket dates. Keep a firm calendar and a personal calendar.

22. When your case is assigned to a judge, pull their standing order and put it in the file.

23. When you file a motion, provide the judge courtesy copies of it and all of the briefs in relation to it.

24. Think about how you will prove-up or defend your case. Don’t just assume it will settle.  Think about what documents you’ll use for exhibits and how you’ll lay the foundation to get them in.  Also, think about what opposing may be using to defend or attack your arguments.

25. Become involved in The Chicago Bar Association Young Lawyers Section. If you’re interested, contact Jennifer Byrne or another member of the executive board.

I look forward to seeing more faces around Dirksen, Daley, and, of course, legal events and social hours at real bars.

About the Author:

Headshot.croppedAlexander I. Passo is an Associate at Latimer LeVay Fyock LLC. He concentrates his practice in complex commercial litigation, including representing clients in matters involving internal business disputes, breach of contract, fraud, emergency business litigation, unfair competition, and professional negligence action. Alex received his Bachelor of Arts from Purdue University in 2010 and graduated magna cum laude from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2014. He’s currently a Director of the CBA Young Lawyers Section and is a past chair of the YLS Tort Litigation Committee. 

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