“Learn from the mistakes of others, you can’t live long enough to make them all yourselves!” said Chanakya. Three/five years in law school equips a law student theoretically but the moment he enters the profession, he is required to learn a whole new skill set. A fresh-out-of-the-oven lawyer’s life is often difficult and riddled with mistakes. Mistakes which almost always cost too much and are never easily forgiven.
For all those novice lawyers who have just joined the profession with big aspirations and little experience, here are 5 mistakes that you should avoid as per 3 veterans from the industry. These guidelines can help you survive and ace the legal profession. Following are the five mistakes you should aim to avoid –
1. Using Shortcuts
“A junior lawyer must be prepared for the initial years of grind – there are no shortcuts to acquire legal minds”, says Mr. Raghavendra. Start by being on time, if not early to office and courts. Being late would result in missing the serial number of your case when it’s called for in the court leading to adjournments, delay in the case reaching a finality, delay in payments, delay in buying that brand new bike or that much-needed vacation. Phew! The point is to never be late to office!
Stay on top of things. A simple act of being up-to-date with the cases handled by the office would take a junior lawyer a long way. It comes in handy to show off when the senior wants to know about a particular case you thought would not come up for hearing for the next 3 months.
Further, never hesitate to learn the clerical work. Mr. Poornachandra B. Pattar says, “Being a lawyer is not only about arguing in the court. It involves groundwork which has to be done in order for the matter to be listed before the court. Learning the clerical work would benefit lawyers”.
Pro tip – Young lawyers at the start line of their careers should strive to acquire knowledge rather than money.
2. Ignoring Legal Research
Research is formalized curiosity. Legal research is the recognition and recovery of information needed to support the legal decision-making process. A lawyer’s arguments are only as good as his research. It equips them with the necessary ammunition to succeed in Courts. Such legal research requires patience, dedication and perseverance of a scholar.
Mr. Arun Sri Kumar states, “Junior lawyers these days do not give enough attention to reading precedents, grasping and understanding nuances of substantive law from case law”. Precedents aid courts in arriving at a decision. To get a favorable order, one has to have strong judicial precedents for their case.
Mr. Raghavendra opines that many junior lawyers are weak in legal research. He believes that research skills need to be honed extensively as research is what puts life into a case at hand. Of course, putting all the research would require understanding and common sense. “Law is more a common sense… often lawyers forget the non-legal interpretations of law, and application of usages and customs” he says.
3. Not Networking
Considering the fact that a majority of lawyers would want to go independent someday, Mr. Poornachandra Pattar opines that “Networking is essential and forms the basis for the independent practice”. A smile in the court hall or a nod in the corridors can take you a long way in networking with the fraternity. Also, it doesn’t hurt to be nice, you know!
Second rule of networking – don’t make an enemy of your opposing counsel! One day you might be arguing against a lawyer in a matter and the next day the two of you would pair up to defend a client. Another set of people one should never make an enemy of – court clerks. Respect them and spare a few friendly words, you have yourself your strongest allies in Court.
Being a service industry-oriented profession, there cannot be enough emphasis laid on the fact that people are a lawyer’s resource and his bread and butter. Politeness and empathy towards a client is an underrated requirement of the job-profile.
4. Getting into bad books of Judges
They say that a good lawyer knows the law but a great lawyer knows the judge. Knowing the judge – his temperament and judgments and tailoring your arguments thus is half the battle won. Further, a good professional rapport with a judge over years will be one of the biggest assets of a lawyer.
Knowing a judge will help a junior lawyer access the scenario and act accordingly. Mr. Arun Sri Kumar advises that no matter how confident one feels about arguing a case, the maturity of being aware of when to inform senior of tricky hearings, and when to take on complicated hearings yourself matters a lot for the health of a case at Courts. A lawyer may lose goodwill both for himself and for his firm/office if he ends up in bad books of a judge, not to mention the verbal bullets he has to survive! While this skill takes years of practice to master, junior lawyers should be mindful of it.
5. Limiting oneself
Never say no to knowledge. Accept and embrace all experiences and verticals of laws. Your skill sets and experience, which are unique only to you, will come in handy someday. You just have to wait and see.
Further, limiting oneself to fewer courts/forums, a lesser variety of cases and simply getting comfortable is a big no-no for a new lawyer. Mr. Arun Sri Kumar, after 11 years of practice, still regrets the fact that he did not embrace opportunities to practice in criminal courts.
Pro tip – Be curious! Question everything! Never walk away from a learning opportunity.
Everybody makes mistake, but it is the wise who learn from it. Following this advice are few ways novice lawyers can successfully maneuver their initial years in the legal profession, so they survive and live to argue another case.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only. The same cannot be construed as legal advice.