Friday, May 7, 2010

Case Management Is Not My Friend

I kind of miss my days of summer associateship. Those were the golden days. More than decent pay, my own office, interesting and diverse projects and, best of all, no responsibility. Partners and associates would hand me random little projects on very specific issues in different cases. I'd complete my projects between the hours of 9 to 5 and then go home for the day, worry free, oblivious and happy.

Being an associate is a WHOLE 'nother story! I have cases. Real, actual cases. And clients. Living, breathing clients. Clients with real issue whose interests and bank accounts are at stake. The clients have all kinds of questions too. Unique and complex questions. And, most likely, I have no answers- only recommendations- and the recommendations I give cause me to think in beffudled, circular riddles and second guess my interpretation of the law.

The more experience I gain in the field of law, the more I realize that it's not about ANSWERS. Because there never ARE answers. It's about coming up with recommendations that have the most likely chance of success and crafting arguments that are most likely to pursuade a judge or jury. The law is a big open battle-field and laywers are left to run amok, punching and kicking each other over ambiguous caselaw.

But that's not even the hard part. The hardest part about practicing law is case management. When I was a summer associate, I just had to do the projects as I was instructed and I left all the big thinking to others. Now, I have to manage my cases: make sure all deadlines are met, all motions are responded to, all due diligence has been conducted, all court rules are followed, and craft and carry out strategic plans of attack. It's crazy and confusing and I have no choice but to learn through trial and error as I go. Saying it's stressful doesn't quite describe it.

I have a hard time remembering where I am in each case as I go back and forth handling the issues that pop up in each of my cases. I get all my file numbers, the facts, client information and litigation history mixed up. I'll be knee deep in a motion or report on one case when a partner will shoot me an email asking me the status of X of my other case or asking if I've done Y yet in yet another case. I have several "Oh shit" moments each day. And.... I only have FIVE cases! Seriously. The average number of cases per associate in my firm is like 15 (some even have 21).

I feel a little bit doomed. BUT I feel like I'm learning at an exponential rate each day. I mean when you know little about litigation and then get thrown into a number of cases, all you can do is learn as you go. And I'm learning. Boy, am I learning! If only I would learn in three years of law school what I learn in ONE DAY of practicing law.

1 comment:

legally certifiable said...

Case management is an acquired skill that you'll have to figure out by trial and error.

One thing that I picked up from a former boss is to keep a notebook that has my docket sheet, scheduling order, and any other frequently referred to documents for each of my cases. In complex cases I create "casts of characters" and timelines. I review many AIA contracts, and they all start to run together, so I created a contract review form that I clip to the front of each contract with the amount disputed (I cannot keep numbers in my head) and all pertinent clauses in the contract.

My other tip is to use all of the tools attached to your calendaring system. Outlook was my best friend (now we're on Mac's and have different, but similar, software). I always keep a task list and set reminders for every task so that I am continually being nagged about the things get pushed to the bottom of the list. And every little thing that pops into my head goes on my task list, because I will forget if I don't have it in writing.

You'll get there--it will just take you a little while to figure out what system works for you.

P.S. Congrats on passing the bar!!!