Trimble: Suggestions for a Better Life for Lawyers… Revisited

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Many of my friends know that my wife and I recently moved to a smaller house. In the process of moving, my wife encouraged me to go through my keepsake boxes to see if I could throw out a few items and take up less space in the closet. As I was rummaging through my boxes, I found an article I had written in February 1993 for Indiana Lawyer titled “A Panel of Experts Offers Suggestions for a Better Life for Lawyers.” I was inspired at the time to write the article because I had attended a statewide meeting of attorneys, and a number of us on the plaintiff’s side and the on the defense side, we had a wide-ranging conversation about our pet peeves. The group gave me permission to take notes and share their views on the things that make our lives as lawyers more difficult. After rereading the article, I thought it might be fun and beneficial to revisit it to see if anything has changed. While some things have changed, many have not. So I’m going to share some thoughts from 1993 and add some new ones. I’ll try to lay out the areas of frustration in the order of importance expressed by the band at the time (expletive removed).

1. Phone tag. This is an area of ​​frustration that still exists, but which has diminished to some degree thanks to the popularization of voicemail and the fact that fewer lawyers are communicating by telephone than before. However, as long as you are still using the phone (as you should), please return phone calls promptly. Don’t call another lawyer early in the morning, at lunchtime, after hours, or on weekends and leave a message saying, “Call me.” If you place a call and cannot reach the recipient, only leave a message if you are available for a callback. Or, leave instructions for when it would be best for you to be contacted for a call back. However, you can leave a message at any time if you’re just providing information or asking the other person something that might require them to do some research before responding. The bottom line is that we can all minimize phone etiquette by avoiding the things that cause phone etiquette, so do your best to avoid it.

2. Insensitive lawyers. We’re all busy sometimes, but being busy is no excuse for not responding. Return phone calls. Acknowledge and respond to emails. There is nothing more frustrating than a group of lawyers trying to schedule depositions or mediation and one lawyer not responding to emails for dates or returning schedules. Also, there are so many things that can be done and resolved through communication so that motions do not have to be filed with the court. In 1993, the assembled group of lawyers also disliked other lawyers who simply did not respond to the discovery in a timely manner and then refused to respond to requests for a discovery date. This problem has not changed much.

3. Surprises of all kinds. Many disputes these days proceed according to a case management plan, so the chances of surprises have diminished. However, there are still a few things happening. We all hate receiving a deposition notice without any warning. We don’t like naysayers who come up with last-minute witnesses…especially expert witnesses. Most of us also dislike last-minute motions to postpone depositions, trials, or hearings when substantial planning and preparation has secured a date and both attorney and client are loans. We are all aware that some surprises are going to happen due to unforeseen circumstances. However, at a minimum, pick up the phone and call the opposing attorney to at least let them know that something unexpected is about to happen.

4. Unnecessary work. Interestingly, this is an area that has changed to some extent since 1993. At the time, the group of lawyers all hated when a case was settled on the courthouse steps after weeks and weekends. ends of preparation. They all hoped that alternative dispute resolution and the relatively new use of mediation would make last-minute settlements less common. It happened. While we always see a case or two settled the week or weekend before trial, this happens far less frequently. Another area of ​​complaint in 1993 that still exists to some extent is the practice of unnecessary queries. Plaintiffs in particular hate responding to summary judgment motions that are unlikely to be granted. They also don’t like the cookie-cutter and overly burdensome discovery in cases where they have already provided the defendant’s insurer with a lot of information before filing the lawsuit. On whether the work is indeed unnecessary, there will never be complete agreement, but this is an area where our clients will benefit from lawyers who do what is necessary, but no more.

5. Lawyers who fight for the sake of fighting. In 1993, everyone understood that litigation is inherently adversarial. But they agreed that none of us benefit our clients, the profession, or our health if we fight for the sake of fighting or object for the sake of objecting. The group of lawyers at the time all agreed that we should be problem solvers and communicators and that we should do our best to be contradictory without being adversaries. In the years since I first wrote about it, I think it’s a problem that has gotten better. We can credit better case management and ADR for reducing unnecessary fights a bit.

6. Deposits at midnight, Fridays and weekends. It’s a new category. Now that we all walk around with our emails on our phones, we can receive electronic statements any time of the day or night, as well as weekends and holidays. We all understand that sometimes late nights, Fridays at 5 p.m., or weekends, deposits just can’t be avoided. However, there is nothing more painful than having your Friday evening, weekend or holiday ruined by an unexpected deposit. I can’t promise I’ll never do it myself, but I hate it enough to deliberately wait until another time to file something if I know it will disrupt another lawyer’s peace of mind. I invite others to do the same. We will all be happier.

7. Demonization of opposing party or opposing counsel. This is another new category and the last one I will mention. Over the past decade, there has been a growing practice of demonizing an adversary as a litigation tactic. In my opinion, this is unfair and unethical. Also, I don’t think most judges like it, and the best judges see through that. Not all insurance companies act in bad faith and not all claimants exaggerate. Indeed, most of the time, litigants have perfectly good faith reasons for their positions, and they do not deserve to be demonized for that.

I noted in 1993 that many of the pet peeves mentioned above harden our arteries and impact our enjoyment of practicing law. The life of a lawyer can be hectic and sometimes frustrating. However, if we all think a little about how we can be better communicators and problem solvers, we will all be happier, and our clients, our families, and our profession will benefit.

And if I ever violate any of the pet peeves above, feel free to call me about it. #Will you be There?•

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John Trimble (@indytrims) is a senior partner at the Indianapolis firm of Lewis Wagner LLP. He is a self-described bar junkie who admits he spends an inordinate amount of time on law practice management, judicial independence and issues relating to the legal profession. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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