Originally posted – Spetember 9, 2011
Last week I appeared at a trial readiness conference in an employment termination case set for jury trial in a few weeks. As my opposing counsel and I walked into chambers, the trial judge said, “It’s good to see a couple of experienced veterans. We can dispense with these trial preparation matters rather quickly”. And so we did.
This got me thinking.
There is a much to be said for reaching the level of an “experienced veteran”. I have spent all of my professional life appearing in court. Or getting ready to appear in court in some form. That amount of experience comes with benefits: Instant credibility from the bench is one. Good instincts for how the court will likely rule on particular matters is another. More examples include an understanding of what a Judge likely will or won’t find persuasive. The ability to edit extraneous matters in briefs and pleadings. And finally, the confidence to estimate how long it takes to do something.
These things are very beneficial to clients involved in risky, expensive litigation.
But, such ease and confidence hold dangers as well. There’s the false belief that you have seen and heard it all before. The risk of under-preparing for a motion or hearing (“winging it”) because you’ve “been there, done that.” Smugness and overconfidence that can lead to mistakes. Complacency. Underestimating less-experienced opponents. All of this can easily morph into arrogance and complacency.
Perhaps an optimal combination is to balance the ease and confidence of a veteran trial attorney with a rookie’s drive and paranoid fear of screwing up. You are confident and at ease handling your cases, but you still lie awake at night worrying about covering all the bases and doing your best.
It seems this balance is a good insurance policy for staying at the top of your game. Do you agree?