Top 10 Tips for Litigators

March 18, 2019

Article from ABA Journal

Listen up, litigators
In its Briefly Speaking contest in 2018, the ABA asked for its members to offer their words of wisdom to young lawyers.
Here are some of our favorite entries, along with the winning advice in the litigator’s category, by Tasha Blakney of
Knoxville, Tennessee.

01. Courtesy counts
“Be courteous to every single person you encounter in the courthouse, from the security officer who greets you at the
door, to the bailiff who assists in the courtroom, to the clerks and the court reporters and everyone in between. When you
need assistance—and you will—it is these very people who can make the difference for you between being an effective
advocate and a clearly exposed newbie. If you are courteous and respectful to all, you will have advocates of your own
when you need help.”

02. Keep it succinct
“In legal writing: Less is always better. Remember your audience is a very busy judge who wants to get to the point
quickly. Strive to put your most important arguments first, and state them as succinctly as possible. Revise and revise
again, until you have pared away all excess words, phrases and arguments.”

03. Be a person
“With clients and juries, don’t forget you are not talking to lawyers. So, leave the legal jargon and logic at home and
concentrate on what they want to know. Tell stories. Use examples. Be a person.”

04. Establish boundaries with your client
“Never allow your client to be the client and the attorney. They can only play the role of client. If they begin doing their
own research and directing you on the law and what arguments to make, you have lost control of the matter and should
withdraw to preserve your sanity.”

05. Avoid legalese
“Always break down the legalese to something the client can relate to in another context. Empower the client to make
hard choices so he/she can move through the litigation and get to life on the other side.”

06. Examine the jury instructions
“Look at your uniform jury instructions on the cause of action(s) and use them to help you draft not only the complaint
but also for deposition preparation and discovery requests.”

07. Be prepared
“Make it your goal to be the most prepared attorney in the courtroom at all times. Do this and you will always have an
advantage over your adversary. Many times over, my laborious preparation for even the smallest and most insignificant
of court appearances has provided me with the tools to be more effective than my adversary, which is the key to success
in the courtroom.”

08. Befriend court staff
“Be extra nice to the judge’s clerks and judicial assistants. A smile and a friendly ‘good morning’ go a long way. Not
only do judges appreciate and expect you to be respectful toward court staff but not doing so could adversely affect your
ability to best serve your clients. Ever wonder what the judge and clerk talk about in chambers? If you’ve been rude or
nasty, that conversation might well be about you!”

09. Put in the work
“Hard work by a new litigator gets further than an underprepared, more experienced litigator. Roll up your sleeves and
get to work. They will likely underestimate you to your advantage.”

10. Get out of the office
“Get out of the office. Always visit or inspect the site or the tangible objects that are the subject of the dispute. You will
gain infinitely more knowledge by such inspections than you can possibly get from video, photos or documents. It also
gives you the upper hand with witnesses who try to lie. It opens leads for evidence that you did not even think of. Also,
take a few hours to visit your local courthouse and the clerk’s office. Meet people there and make connections with the