Last month, I began a conversation about the questions
that may keep you up at night—and the importance a mentor can have
in your professional life.
As I said, the next generation of lawyers faces some unique challenges. Among them are reductions in large-firm hiring and a general
lack of “on the job” training.
What is a newly admitted lawyer to do? How do they move beyond
their great law school education and develop the skills that can only
come through experience?
As we walk that career
path, there are occasional
stumbles. But what are some
red flags that suggest new
attorneys may need the
guidance a mentor could
Some have responded to
my call last month to hear
from Bar members about
the questions I asked—or
about anything else that
concerns them. But I’d like
to hear from more.
To spur our conversation, here are a few more
indications that you and
your law practice may benefit greatly from a mentor:
1. Do you have a calendaring and docketing system that
you can rely on?
As a new lawyer, I was annoyed when senior partners expected everything to be on the calendar and docketed. I knew my schedule, and I
knew when items were due.
That’s fine when you have a few files. But it does not work when you
have dozens of active files. Invest in and understand a good calendaring and docketing system now, and be religious about entering
everything the moment you learn of the date. If you commit
and make it part of your routine, you will sleep better at night
when your practice grows, and won’t need to play catch-up
when it’s too late.
Most important, the dates you always need to docket and
never want to miss are at least the following seven: (i) notices
of claim, (ii) statutes of limitations, (iii) notices of appeal, (iv)
answers to requests for admissions, (v) court hearings, (vi)
applications for default, and (vii) answers (especially in federal
court). If you aren’t using a reliable docketing system now, it’s
time to get a mentor.
2. Do you keep your clients timely and fully informed?
Often, the Ethical Rules are a lawyer’s ally. Anything you receive
pertinent to your case should be shared with
your client immediately as part of your rou-
tine practice. First, the ERs require you to
keep your client advised, and second, you
should charge for your efforts in doing so.
Why would you not do something you are
required to do, especially when it keeps the
client in the loop and you can charge for
your time? Knowing the ERs can be a reli-
able mentoring system for how to practice
3. Do you often sue clients?
Bad idea. Learn from your mistakes and do
not get in that situation again. Ethical Rules
require a written representation agreement
in every case. This is a contract, and when a
client does not live up to the agreement, it
may be time to cut ties.
If you need to sue your clients repeatedly,
perhaps you should reevaluate your intake
and advance deposit requirements—and
maybe you could benefit from a mentor. If a
client will not pay an advance deposit when
they need you most, they certainly will not
pay you when the case has been resolved.
I once represented a client who promised me weekly that a check was on the way.
I then had an epiphany while I was working
one Saturday and my non-paying client was
in Hawaii on a vacation. Now my general
rule is that if payment or suitable arrangements are not made the first time, I will
gently remind. However, the second missed
promise is generally time to take decisive
action. Send a notice of withdrawal and client consent quickly and tell the client you
will write-off all outstanding fees if they sign
and return. It is amazing how many times
I have received a check by return mail with
the advance deposit replenished. If your client does not value your services, it’s probably time to move on.
Unfortunately, these issues may sound familiar. If they or other situations are hampering
your practice, it may be time to ask for help.
Please consider sending me your concerns
or law practice questions, which I may address in future columns. Send me an email
by Alex Vakula PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
Often, the Ethical Rules
are a lawyer’s ally.
Knowing the ERs can be
a reliable mentoring
system for how to
Law Practice Details Matter