This week in Young, Hungry and Committed, virtual office NYC attorney, Vivian Sobers applies the lessons she learned from her adversaries to her law practices and beyond.
When your name is the only one on the door, you do not have a third year associate to mentor you and help develop your legal skills and acumen. Solo attorneys, by nature, gain most of their skills through “on-the-job” training.
I guess that last sentence is a misnomer. I have found that most solo attorneys chose the path of self-employment only after they had acquired the necessary skills to effectively practice at another law firm and then hone them during private practice. (Maybe not all of them though, it seems no solo attorney understands the economics of self-employment when they first hang their shingle.)
Finding an unlikely mentor.
As I mentioned, I went solo right after law school. For me, everything was a process; the learning curve was steeper than most. I had to get creative to learn the “in’s-and-out’s” of legal practice. My mentor, or any mentor for that matter, would only take so many phone calls about mundane procedural inquiries before they would go voicemail in mid-ring.
Instead, I learned from my adversaries.
Sure, I learned a lot of positive tactics that I continue to employ during client representation. Most importantly, I learned to mimic my adversaries’ body language while litigating. There is something to be said for “acting like a lawyer.”
But, I learned much more by watching my opponents and avoiding their negative behavior.
For example, I recently had a court appearance in New York County Supreme. As usual, I over-prepared. No matter how comfortable I get in my role as advocate, I will never be wholly comfortable and confident. I don’t consider this a bad thing. In fact, I never feel comfortable because I care about my clients. I never want to let them down.
I never got to take that dramatic pause. (Which is probably for the better!)
I have learned that sometimes, the most effective legal strategy is to just shut-up and let your opponent dig their own hole.
When employed effectively, you don’t even have to give them a shovel. Most of the time, they bring their own.
Where else do I apply the lessons I have learned from my “mentor”?
As a litigator, I am by nature argumentative and opinionated. Knowing when to “shut-up”, is not something that comes easily. This is simultaneously a benefit and a burden.
But, in this above mentioned scenario, I let my opponent talked his way out of a favorable decision. He was ranting and raving so much that it pissed off the judge on the case. I was able to get what I wanted with only a simple, “Yes, your Honor. Thank you.”
This is an important lesson for all lawyers. Sometimes, there is power in silence. It may be uncomfortable for us to fight the urge to speak. (Let’s face it, we love to hear ourselves talk.) But, your silence coupled with the frenetic speaking of an adversary can provide a better outcome on a case than you could have ever prepared for.