I attended a women’s event recently—just another luncheon for a good cause, but I made an incredible observation. The women who were most engaged in talking about their various charities and all of the non-profit work they managed to fit into their very busy professional lives, were women of the Baby Boomer generation. Either they had no children to begin with, or their children were away at college or had moved on to their own adult lives. Conversely, one young mother of two—or was it one mother of two young children?—noted that she simply did not have time to volunteer for non-profits; she would rather spend her precious “free” time with her children. To be sure, the “Gen X” or “Gen Y” discussion was quite different from that of my Baby Boomer peers.
Once a month LWL will feature Leading Ladies, female attorneys who have inspired us with their success both in and out of the legal profession. Justice Sandee Bryan Marion of the Fourth Court of Appeals of San Antonio has joined us to offer her advice to young female attorneys.
Regardless of whether you believe age brings wisdom (you may know some people for whom this adage does not ring true), experience gained in the legal trenches definitely provides you with war stories to tell. Having practiced for thirty-four years and having served as a jurist for twenty-two of those years, I was asked to offer some advice to young female attorneys based on my experiences.
My first thought is to encourage you to take full advantage of all of the advice offered through this blog. Sharing others’ experiences will prepare you in the event you encounter similar situations in the future.
Next, always treat others as you want to be treated and never, ever burn any bridges. Years ago, I attended a continuing legal education seminar where a very successful lawyer from Austin made this point in a most compelling way. He was offering tips to all of the lawyers in the audience on how to be a successful litigator when he said: “Never, ever, call your opposing counsel an SOB.” He said, “I did, and how was I to know that the governor would appoint my opposing counsel to the district court bench the very next week.” You can be an excellent advocate for your client without being disrespectful to your opposing counsel or the court.
Third, be a straight shooter. You will discover the legal community is smaller than you think, and your reputation as a straight shooter — someone who is honest and reputable — will impact the manner in which opposing counsel treat you. I know first-hand how important this is. After I had been in practice for about ten years, I was in presiding court. As I exchanged greetings with a lawyer against whom I had a deposition scheduled the following day, he leaned in and said, “you might want to check your answers to your interrogatories.” Somewhat mystified, I followed his advice and reviewed my responses when I returned to my office. In reviewing the responses, I discovered that I had inadvertently failed to list the addresses for a few key witnesses which could have led to their exclusion. I quickly supplemented my answers, and the case eventually settled. When I thanked that lawyer for his advice, he said, “I can think of a dozen lawyers I never would have done that for, but you have always been a straight shooter, and I didn’t want to see you get burned.”
Finally, keep your clients informed even if you have bad news to relay. When I was in practice, I envisioned myself as the pilot of an airplane, and the passengers were my clients. Just like the passengers in an airplane depend on the pilot to provide information, my clients depended on me to communicate with them and keep them informed, especially in turbulent times. And, there will be turbulent times. Like a pilot, you may experience delays. If your client is expecting a quick answer, he or she needs to know the answer will be delayed, and the reason for the delay. Similarly, you may encounter an obstacle that prevents you from reaching the intended destination. If your client is expecting a particular outcome that you know is unachievable, you need to tell him or her. Even if the news is bad, your role is to calmly and professionally communicate that news to your client.
I hope you find my war stories and advice helpful. And, as you mature in your careers, do not forget to offer your advice to others. God tells us that it is in giving that we receive, so do your best to reach out and give advice to others. You never know what helpful advice you might receive in return.