Attorneys in Transition: Defensive lawyering tips

Nick Augustine is the principal of Chicago’s Augustine Legal Public Relations and he works for the Bryan Law Group, a full service boutique family practice in DuPage County. Nick teaches law firms and their staff how to get more clients as he helps attorneys share their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Nick earned a communications and rhetorical studies degree from Marquette University and a law degree from The John Marshall Law School where he is an active Alumni Board member.

Law practice in Chicagoland can be challenging, depending on the court in which you find your cases. Driver education instructors preach defensive driving, so should not law schools preach defensive lawyering? I think so.

  1. Read and review your court orders. This seems obvious, but too many times people accidentally leave things off the order and/or incorrect language appears. Some lawyers I know will sign the order as “Reviewed, but not for content” to indicate they saw the order but do not agree to what is written. Taking good notes and spending the extra time reviewing the order of the court will save you time in bringing a motion to clarify or to correct later on.
  2. Bring a court reporter. Not all Illinois courts have the CourtSmart system to preserve a record of everything said before the bench. Judges are human and they forget and make mistakes, just like lawyers and everybody else can. The benefit of practicing in counties with the automatic recording is that you can order a transcript of any recorded proceeding. If you are in a county without this technology, bring a court reporter to get a record of what transpires at key court appearances. It is always easier to build a record for appeal when you have transcripts.
  3. Prepare for appeal. When you disagree with the court’s ruling and believe an error occurred, you owe it to your client, and to the community, as an officer of the court, to file and prosecute necessary appeals. Have you ever looked for law on point, you are sure exists, but it is not out there? Without appeals, we do not record published opinions on which everyone can rely on a reviewed statement of law and procedure.
  4. Review local motion practice. Every county has their own local rule and custom regarding motion practice. A motion to strike a motion (as opposed to a petition) is improper in many counties who follow the rule that a Section 2-619 motion to dismiss applies only to pleadings. In one county, the judge might know this and in another, you may have a different experience.
  5. Copy and bill your client for both your benefit. Miscommunications seem to be the greatest threat to the attorney/client relationship. Clients get confused and frustrated, just like their attorneys. If you get in the practice of copying the client and billing everything that happens (yes, you should n/c as appropriate and at your discretion). The invoice should tell a story of the case and when you bill for things with the “why” included, the client has a better understanding. In addition, in the event of a breakdown or problem, you will have an accurate record of communication.

Many great Illinois lawyers go out of their way to mentor attorneys in transition and help them learn the ropes. The greater legal community and the clients it serves are better off when attorneys in transition practice law defensively.

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