Monday, February 6, 2012

ARTICLE: A CLEAN SLATE

The below article of mine was published in last week's Pennsylvania Law Weekly.  It was also picked up for publication in the New Jersey Law Journal and the Texas Lawyer periodicals.  I hope you enjoy it.

A Clean Slate:
Ways to Ease Stress and Improve Your Practice

by

Daniel E. Cummins


The Legal Intelligencer/Pennsylvania Law Weekly


January 31, 2012











Another new year has come and 11 more months stretch out in front of us until the next one. It's still a clean slate and there is plenty that can be accomplished in the year ahead in terms of reducing stress and improving one's enjoyment and success in the practice of law. Here are five tips that may help in this regard.

Extend Professional Courtesies

You've heard it and I've heard it again and again: "It's hard enough being in the practice of law without (fill in the blank)."

It may help to look at 2012 and beyond as a time to start promoting professional courtesies among attorneys by exhibiting them yourself, perhaps even more than you may have in the past. As they say, what goes around comes around.

For example, requests for continuances should be granted without hesitation wherever possible by fellow attorneys, as well as the bench, particularly where there is no prejudice to the parties involved. Also, discovery that an opposing party is clearly entitled to under the rules should be produced in a timely fashion and without the necessity of unnecessary motions practice.

As difficult as it may seem at times, an attorney should also try to avoid taking on the emotional trappings that one's client may bring to a case. If litigators can remain above the fray and attempt to "counsel" their respective clients toward an amicable resolution, the entire legal system, not to mention the client, will benefit.

Also, spreading accolades always promotes professionalism among attorneys. As Dale Carnegie once wrote, "Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise" toward others.

If an opposing counsel makes a good presentation in court or submits an excellent brief, let them know that while you disagree with the position stated, you were impressed nevertheless by the presentation. If you hear of a colleague or client who has won a case or earned an award of some sort, drop him or her a note, e-mail or text of congratulations. Lawyers are told day in and day out that their position is erroneous and, as a result, can never hear enough praise for a job well done.

And while you're practicing increased professional courtesies in 2012, don't forget that "please" and "thank you" go a long way.

Look Ahead

Resolve in 2012 to constantly look ahead 30 to 45 days on your calendar to see what's coming down the pike. Lawyers hate surprises; clients hate them more.

By constantly looking ahead you may be lucky enough to never again experience that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes when you forget to tell a client about tomorrow's settlement conference with the court.

Looking ahead on your calendar also allows you to get a jumpstart on that motion or brief that may be due 30 days or so down the line. Having more time to write means having more time to research and edit, which guarantees a better final product that covers all of the applicable law and argument.

Read Updates

Another way to make your practice better in 2012 and beyond is to read any case updates you can get your hands on. By reading the Pennsylvania Law Weekly and its weekly "Case Digests" section, you are already ahead of those who don't read the paper.

A review of the blue-covered advance sheets sent out by the Atlantic Reporter is also another good way to stay up on the latest cases. The first few pages of every blue copy of the advance sheets contain a listing of the Pennsylvania state cases found in that edition along with a concise summary of the holding. A few more pages back you will periodically see a listing of recent Pennsylvania federal court decisions with concise summaries as well.

Even better than simply skimming these sources is engaging in the practice of actively committing these cases to somewhere in your memory by typing the case name, citation and concise summary into a running list on your computer. For easy reference later, this list can broken down in alphabetical order by topics pertinent to your practice ("Appeal," "Bad Faith," "Complaints," etc.).

It can be guaranteed that if you actively add to a list of important court decisions that are pertinent to your practice, you will be rewarded again and again by having these cases at your fingertips when you need them rather than having to try to rack your brain as to where you know you saw a particular case before.

Return Phone Calls

It may also pay off to plan, in 2012, to make an effort to return all phone calls within 24 hours. Quickly returning phone calls will certainly make your clients happy and keep them more informed on the status of their cases.

Your reputation among your peers as an attorney who is prepared and "good to deal with" will also be bolstered by promptly calling back other attorneys. Rather than having an opposing counsel still offended by one or more unreturned phone calls, the goodwill generated by your promptly returned phone calls over the course of a case may be able to be cashed in come settlement discussions time with more cordial negotiations.

In the scenario of being faced with a voicemail from an attorney or client you'd really rather not talk to, there are always the many options of responding by mail, fax, e-mail, text or (if you're lucky) voicemail. Efforts to keep the communications flowing will serve to keep the case moving along closer and closer to the resolution of the case, however that may occur.

Schedule Time Off

Believe it or not, it's okay to look out for numero uno on occasion. As we start to delve into 2012, look ahead several months on your new calendar and schedule some time off for yourself later while the coast is clear.

Scheduling vacations, or at least a few long weekends here or there, helps to rejuvenate one's self. Although a lawyer can never completely get away from the practice of law, pushing it to the back burner for a day, or several days, and focusing on the other, more important and/or enjoyable aspects of your life can result in your being refreshed upon your return to work.

Now, more than ever, it is not only beneficial but easier to get away for a while. With the advent of smartphones and e-mail, your virtual law office is always a phone call or a few keystrokes away.

So do yourself and yours a big favor — put down this article, look ahead on your calendar and schedule that time off. And, please, don't forget to send me a postcard.

Daniel E. Cummins is a partner and civil litigator with the Scranton law firm of Foley Cognetti Comerford Cimini & Cummins. His civil litigation blog, "Tort Talk," may be viewed at www.torttalk.com.

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