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10 tips for young litigators

By Paul T. Moura

Paul T. MouraFrom complaint to verdict, litigation can be a grind. For young litigators, it can be easy to get lost in nuanced summary judgment research and contentious discovery disputes. Below are 10 tips to keep in mind in order to add value to your litigation and trial team.

Your introduction can win or lose your motion. Don’t waste the first page of your brief explaining the court’s jurisdiction or the standard of review. Instead, summarize your key points and arguments in a concise and compelling way. Judges and clerks are extremely busy and can tell pretty quickly whether the arguments hold water. A clear and organized introduction can give the reader more comfort that the arguments that follow have merit.

Think about tone and rhetoric in your writing. You can be an aggressive litigator without being overly bullish or disparaging to your opponent. A pejorative and condescending tone in briefs is rarely productive in the long-run. Instead, focus on a clear and careful presentation of your arguments. Some judges may want to incorporate elements of your brief into their opinion. Make it easier for them to do that by giving them well-reasoned thoughts with a professional tone.

Know your cases and arguments. It’s easy to assume that your case is more complicated than most and that, during oral argument, the judge will not want to get into the weeds of your legal arguments or your facts. Don’t assume anything. Many judges will not tolerate generalities, so you should be able to articulate the case law clearly and comprehensively and be prepared to apply it to your own situation.

Always think about trial. Because litigation can sometimes be a day-to-day slog through obscure legal research and contentious discovery disputes, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture of what you need to prove at trial. Keep your focus on getting the evidence you need and presenting it to the judge and jury. Consider organizing your theory of the case by starting your trial brief months in advance, and refine it as you get closer to trial.

Be civil with your opposing counsel. Try not to refuse accommodating your opponent’s requests for extensions simply because she is your opponent. You may need her to make accommodations for you or your client in the future, and judges don’t like to see lawyers get in petty disputes that could have been resolved through a simple compromise.

Don’t surprise your client. If your client needs to supply discovery responses, make themselves available for deposition or give you authority to take a particular litigation strategy, don’t wait until the last minute to bring it up. Likewise, tell them well in advance when they need to make themselves available for trial. Your clients have busy lives and careers, too, and may not be in a position to drop everything or turn something around immediately.

Consider mediation. Mediation can be a more cost-effective and efficient way to resolve disputes. Going to mediation also allows the parties to get a better sense of how likely the dispute is to go to trial. There are many trained mediators out there who can help the parties test their theories and draw out the true sticking points. Mediation is also confidential, so statements in mediation typically cannot be used against you.

Be courteous to staff. Everyone is working hard. Treat staff and colleagues with the utmost respect. Remember that you’re all on the same team. There will be times when trial is hectic or a critical deadline is just minutes away and they will come to your rescue. Make sure to convey your appreciation.

Seek out a mentor. One of the only things we can be sure of as lawyers is that we don’t know everything. Cultivate relationships with mentors. The knowledge and experiences of other lawyers can be our greatest resource.

Own your career. Whether you are a sole practitioner, a mid-size firm lawyer or a “biglaw” associate, take ownership of your career from the outset. Even as a young litigator, you can seek out your niche or area of expertise. It is never too early to publish on topics of interest or network with those in your desired field. Building your own reputation can be very rewarding and over time can help you focus your practice on the subjects you most enjoy.

Paul T. Moura is an associate at Hunton & Williams in Los Angeles and  serves on the California Young Lawyers Association (CYLA) Board of Directors.