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A Good Lawyer, Ch. 4

A couple of weekends ago, I was prompted to go back and read Stephen Comiskey’s must read book “A Good Lawyer: Secrets Good Lawyers [and their clients] Already Know.” Last week I started a series looking at my favorite excerpts from each of the books. I’ve reviewed Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3. Today, I take a look at Chapter 4.

Chapter 4 is entitled “The Rules” and sets out what Comiskey thinks are key rules governing how we practice. As he states it:

As you read the good lawyers’ counsel in these pages, think of each of these good lawyers’ secrets as a guidepost located somewhere on a continuum from heavenly idealism to pedestrian pragmatism. The client is th reality check for the lawyer and, likewise, the lawyer for the client.

My favorite rules from Chapter 4 are:

3. Never underestimate your opponent.

6. On a weekly basis, review all your open matters to ensure that each one is being worked appropriately and that nothing has fallen through the cracks.

9. Ignore prospective clients’ assurances to you that the prospective defendants: “Will cave in as soon as they know there is a lawyer involved;” “Will settle because they can’t afford any bad publicity;” “Have always settled cases like this in the past;” and that the prospective clients have heard that similarly situated predecessors to them “Settled for a ‘bundle’ of money and never even had to file a lawsuit.” Suggest to those prospective clients that if any of that is actually true, then they should be hiring the lawyers who accomplished it, and not you.

13. If you decide not to take on a case after meeting with a prospective client, then either in person or by telephone: (1) tell them that you’re not going to be able to represent them; (2) tell them why you’ve come to that conclusion; (3) encourage them to meet with and to seek the opinions of other lawyers; and (4) remind them of the statute(s) of limitations that may be involved. Follow that conversation with a letter to them to the same effect. (Another key piece of advice from the legal malpractice lawyer’s perspective.)

15. As each case progresses, share with your client your decisions and your thought processes concerning the moral and ethical issues presented, in addition to the legal and factual ones.

21. Do not assume a settlement attitude.

22. An Oriental expression translates: Talk, Talk, Fight, Fight. To me that means, once the lawsuit has been filed, and especially when you are either discussing settlement, or negotiating settlement, keep the trial preparation pedal to the metal.

31. There is no need for exaggerated theatrics at depositions.

34. It’s hard for trial lawyers to empathize with judges, since most trial lawyers have never been judges. But as former trial lawyers, most judges recognize and appreciate good trial counsel and understand the conflicting demands made upon lawyers.

46. Leave it at the office.

47. Don’t join anything for possible client acquisition reasons, join — and participate — because you enjoy and support the activity.

59. Remember, no matter how honorable and meritorious your efforts may be for your clients, the practice of law is a business, not a charitable organization. Your family expects you to make enough money to maintain, if not improve, their standard of living. Don’t disappoint them.

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