It’s been quite some time since our last post. Life happens. My wife and I went through a miraculous experience together earlier this year. As a sufferer of polycystic kidney disease, my wife’s kidney function entered its end stage last summer and she was placed on the kidney transplant list. Because we had determined that the gift of a kidney would be simply too great to accept without reciprocation, I began qualification testing last fall to become a kidney donor. Of course, there was always the dream chance that I would be a match for my wife… During the week of Christmas, 2014, we received the news that I was a good candidate for donation – AND that I was a good match for my wife! The word miracle is not misplaced here. In January, 2015, my wife and I successfully underwent surgery together. I am happy to report that we are both fully recovered and healthy.
So what does any of this have to do with the practice of law? Well, quite a bit actually when you consider that the practice of law doesn’t stop when life happens. From personal experience, I would recommend that the key to juggling the immediate demands that life places upon you with the ongoing demands of your practice is communication.
- With Your Partners and Support Staff: It is critical that you share your circumstances with your partners and support personnel so that you can plan for your time away from the practice and so that you can plan ahead to ensure that client needs and expectations will be met. I was blessed to have terrific people around me who rallied to pick up the load and, frankly, to protect me. I remain humbled to this day by their response. If you are a solo practitioner, then involve your friends and colleagues. I think you too will be surprised by the willingness of others to come to your aid.
- With Your Clients: The job of an attorney to manage client expectations does not begin and end at the time of the initial engagement. It is a process that should be pursued throughout the duration of the representation. If you know that life will take you away for a period of time from your ability to respond to phone calls or emails in a timely manner, let your clients know. The truth is always the obvious answer and, yes, clients can handle the truth.
- With the Court: If you have court / trial deadlines that will be impacted by your personal circumstances, it is critical that you communicate your situation with the courts in which you appear. You will find that the bench is protective of the bar and that our judges will likely receive your requests with an attitude more akin to genuine concern than simple understanding.
- With Opposing Counsel: In my practice, I feel fortunate to find good lawyers and good people on the opposite side of the cases we represent. While we rarely view the cases through the same lenses, we operate in an atmosphere of mutual respect in which it is acceptable to have an honest disagreement over the facts, the law or both. Communicate with opposing counsel when events outside of your control will impact your ability to be responsive to the cases you have in common.
While all of this may seem minor and self-evident, it is amazing how many malpractice situations arise out of the simple failure to communicate. As a client of ours once taught us, people don’t trip over mountains, they trip over ant hills. Don’t let this ant hill trip you up.