One thing you may not think about while preparing to become a lawyer is how you're going to deal with lawyers. This may seem like a ridiculous thing to consider, but it's not. As a lawyer, you will be dealing with other lawyers on a daily basis; it's a good idea to be prepared for the different situations and personality types you might encounter. Your responses to others will have a great deal to do with shaping your own persona.
As you begin your career, you will likely be placed in situations with lawyers whose motives and ethics you question. Also, you will have many interactions with attorneys who run the gamut from arrogant know-it-alls to slimy sleazeballs. When this happens, there are two things you should keep in mind.
Be On Your Guard
First, be cautious around obnoxious personalities. Many of these lawyers may be waiting to take advantage of your new-attorney status.
The best way to prepare for something like this and ensure that you're not taken advantage of is to get in the habit of documenting every single thing you do, to the point of ridiculousness. Follow up letters or emails confirming conversations is also a great way to memorialize something discussed with opposing counsel. That way, if someone tries to blame you for something or tries to make him/herself look good by making you look bad, you'll have the documentation to validate yourself.
Also, it's a good idea to always keep your supervising attorneys informed of what you are doing. Having the added accountability factor will keep you honest and will serve as another form of documentation. It will also make it easier to avoid malpractice suits, any new attorney's worst nightmare.
Hone Your Skills
The second thing to keep in mind is this: Every interaction with an attorney is a chance for growth. For example, if you meet someone who really gets on your nerves, the best possible thing you can do is learn from him/her how not to get on people's nerves. Let your everyday experiences with others in the legal field shape you into the attorney you want to be by incorporating the positive aspects of interactions and learning from the bad.
When dealing with opposing counsels as well as those attorneys within your own firm, be professional. Even when you may feel like sticking out your tongue, doing the ha-ha-I-won-and-you-didn't dance, or simply slapping someone upside the head, check yourself. Cultivate mature relationships with other lawyers, and you will gain respect in return.
It may help to view your opposing counsel as a person, instead of strictly the enemy. He/She is simply doing his/her absolute best to win the case for his/her client -- same as you.
However, this does not mean you should not be clever and cunning in your fight for the rights of your client. It only means that you should be professional. There is no shame in knowing what you want and doing everything you can to get it. Just be sure to steer a wide berth around childish and unethical behavior, both of which will bring about negative consequences.
One of the best strategies is to hone shrewd lawyering skills, but to keep them hidden until the most opportune time -- the time when they will best be used to the advantage of your client. This will give you the upper hand when dealing with loud and obnoxious attorneys. The element of surprise that goes along with knowing precisely when to burst forth with ferocity on behalf of your client will go a long way toward winning cases -- much further than an eternally abrasive personality.
Cultivate Your Legal Reputation
Bill Piatt, former Dean of St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, has raised concerns about the reputation of lawyers as something the legal community should be concerned about, and he thinks rebuilding the reputation should start in law school.
"I think that we're going to have to improve the image of lawyers," he said. "It's not always the fault of the legal profession that people think less of us. We, after all, have to stand up and assist people in very stressful situations; but I think we have to make sure that the people we let in are, number one, intellectually the best and the brightest. And then, to the extent that we can, we have to make sure that morally they're the best and the brightest. I really strongly believe in the role of law schools and the bar in making sure that attorneys are not only legally competent, but morally competent to practice law."
Now is the best time to start preparing yourself for life outside legal academia. Take some time to consider the attorney you're going to be and how you're going to treat others. The legal profession will thank you for it.