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Archive for the ‘Positives’ Category

The thrill of victory

Imagine the visceral thrill that runs through you when you win.  The adrenaline courses through your body, your heart rate is up, the excitement palpitates you from head to toe.  You exude confidence the way Marilyn Monroe exudes sex.  You can’t be stopped.  You can do no wrong.  You are on top of the world.

There is nothing like the sensation of winning.  In litigation, winning (and losing) comes with the territory.  You go to court on a motion that you prepared.  The partner has made you rehearse your oral argument numerous times.  It’s a 50-50 toss-up.  Opposing counsel is a much more experienced lawyer than you.  Unlike some oral arguments, where the outcome is essentially predetermined, this one really counts.  You arrive in court with your client in tow.  The client’s presence just ratchets up the pressure.  A drop of sweat trickles down your forehead.  The judge grills both sides, but you are well-prepared and have anticipated all the possible arguments.  You sense that opposing counsel is on the defensive.  You go for the kill.  The judge rules from the bench, grants your motion, and adds sanctions on the other side for good measure.  Victory!  Your client is impressed, and you drive back to the office with the top down, the radio blaring, and your hair on fire.  You’re driving at 100 mph but it feels like 60.  But it doesn’t matter.  No cop will pull you over today.  For a moment, you are unstoppable.

Corporate lawyers get the same rush doing a deal over a negotiating table.  You draft a contract, putting all these subtle “hooks” into the document.  These hooks are like buried land mines, and if the other side doesn’t catch them all, they might just blow up.  And that’s what happens.  Opposing counsel misses one of these hooks, fails to object or revise some subtle language, and all of a sudden, $40 M passes from one side of the table to the other.  Completely silent.  Completely unknown to one side.  But to the lawyer who devised the trap?  On the inside, she’s so psyched that she’s bouncing from wall to wall.  On. Top. Of. The. World.

Lawyers have told me that the sense of winning is like a drug.  Once you feel it, you want more.  You love it, crave the feeling, and you’ll do anything to get it back.  The darker side of this, of course, is: “At what cost?”

 

 

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The good stuff

After last week’s theme of layoffs, you might think that working at a law firm is all doom and gloom.  Fear not!  This week, I will focus on the good stuff, the aspects of being an associate that remind us of why we went to law school in the first place.

Why did we go to law school?  What aspects of law school did we really enjoy?  Based on what law students and lawyers have told me, the prevailing sentiment is this: the intellectual stimulation.  Learning the law, understanding the nuances of legal persuasion and argument, sharpening the ability to analyze, dissect, and rationalize.

As young lawyers, associates crave the same intellectual stimulation that they experienced in law school.  But this doesn’t happen overnight.  Too often, based on the manner in which cases are staffed, entry-level associates are only responsible for one, very small, discrete part of the case–and have no concept of the big picture.  It’s only when associates rise within the ranks that they become more involved, gradually assuming greater responsibility and larger portions of the case.  Either that, or get staffed on a smaller case where there’s only one partner and one associate.

So what is the good stuff?  For corporate lawyers, it may involve a legal strategy session figuring out the angles of negotiation, or how to phrase a sentence in a particular way that doesn’t offend the other side but where the client still gets what he wants.  For litigators, it may mean a roundtable discussion with the client and the partners about whether to file a discretionary motion: whether the motion will provide leverage over the other side, place pressure on them to settle, distract opposing counsel or utilize resources better spent elsewhere; or perhaps backfire when the judge throws out the motion and becomes angry, or if opposing counsel fires back with her own motion.

Lawyering is often a chess match: each move must be made deliberately, anticipating the response from the other side, your response to their response, and their response to your response to their response, et cetera.  Each move, down to the minute details of the tone of voice used in a letter to opposing counsel, carries potential consequences down the line.  Legal strategy, after all, is not simply a game of x’s and o’s; it involves understanding all the intangibles of the human condition and taking deliberate actions to use them to advantage for the client.  How do we treat the other side?  Do we take aggressive positions or conciliatory ones?  Do we cooperate or fight?  Should we make concessions now in order to “bank some goodwill” when we may need it later on?  The most skilled attorneys understand human psychology, and are masters at being able to manipulate their own personalities and interactions to fit the situation.

For an associate, being included in these discussions of legal strategy, and observing firsthand how they work and to what effect–that is the good stuff.

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