Member Groups

Family Law
The newsletter of ISBA’s Section on Family Law

October 2007, vol. 51, no. 4

The top 10 things they did not teach me in law school

Upon starting the actual practice of our profession, nearly every attorney begins to realize how little he or she knows. Here is a list of some of the things I had to learn, in many instances, the hard way.

10. Be very wary of the opposing counsel or client who addresses you as “counselor.”

For some reason, these people are not to be trusted.

9. Return phone calls to other attorneys at 11:30 a.m. and at 4:30 p.m.

This is when you are most likely to actually make contact.

8. Do not let yourself be a prisoner to the idea of the “billable hour.”

Charge flat fees, whether it is litigation or transactional. Most clients hate getting charged for a phone call. Nearly all clients want to know at the onset what it is going to cost.

7. If you practice in a true partnership, whatever form it may take, remember that there is no “fair” way of allocating compensation among partners.

Everyone thinks that they are under-compensated: the rainmakers, the transactional lawyers, the big fee contingency folks. I once knew of a two-lawyer firm that broke up whenever either of them would take in a big probate case.

6. Learn to work with other professionals, such as certified accountants, investment brokers, insurance people.

Develop mutually “safe” relationships with these folks. They can and will be great sources of new business for you. You should not be afraid to refer business to them, either. Do not always insist on acting as quarterback of a professional network working together for the same client. Sometimes it is appropriate to be the leader, sometimes not.

5. When a legal question arises, read the statute books first.

It is amazing how many answers are there.

4. Be available.

In today’s era of cell phones and e-mail, there is no excuse for not promptly returning phone calls from clients. I have found that availability is one strong trait of every great lawyer I have known.

3. Always, always tell the truth.

There are times that call for silence, but never knowingly make any misrepresentation to anyone, whether to a judge, client or opposing counsel. Your credibility as a lawyer is the most important thing about you.

2. In any dispute, keep your hands on the money for as long as possible.

Once you lose control of it, you lose any negotiating position you may have had.

1. Maintain a balance in your life.

This is a very hard lesson to learn. Make sure there is time for your family and friends. Take time for yourself, too. My former partner used to say, “Thank God it’s Friday, there’s only two more days to work this week.” Don’t let this happen to you.

Dennis A. Norden is Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Attorney Title Guaranty Trust Company whose headquarters are located at 33 North Dearborn Suite 1220, Chicago, Illinois 60602. Mr. Norden is also a member of the Business Advice and Financial Planning Section Council.

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