“This is a stellar panel,” Associate Dean Jeff Joseph said as he introduced the three speakers from the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) who spoke at TJSL on Wednesday, August 31. “You can hardly find a more qualified panel to discuss the practice of law.”
The event was titled: “Keys to Success in the Practice of Law.”
The ABOTA speakers were Appeals Court Justices James McIntyre and Judith Haller, and trial lawyer Monty McIntyre (no relation to Justice McIntyre) , a partner at Seltzer, Caplan, McMahon and Vitek and former president of the San Diego Bar Association.
If you had to sum up the most critical message the presenters had for the TJSL law students who attended in just three words they would be: reputation is everything.
“Integrity, professionalism and civility” all add up to your reputation, according to Monty McIntyre. “The most precious thing you have is a spotless reputation.”
“When you are sworn-in to the bar, you do have a spotless reputation,” said Justice McIntyre. “But if you lose your reputation it is difficult, if not impossible, to get back. It’s absolutely critical. And if we can’t trust you, why would we rule in your favor? People with credibility get the edge.”
“Without credibility, you can’t convince a judge of your case,” said Justice Haller. “In a close call, if we can trust you, the decision may fall your way. You may not have a sense of just how important it is (your credibility)”, added Justice Haller. “And if you are untrustworthy, word gets around very, very quickly in the courthouse.”
“Even before the Internet, “said Monty McIntyre,“ we had our own Internet in the courthouse – the back corridors.”
“Judges and lawyers talk,” said Justice McIntyre.
The panelists talked about one sure way to tarnish your reputation and that is to be difficult to work with and fighting with other attorneys over what Justice McIntyre said are “the stupidest things. Sometimes I feel like a parent. ‘Why are they arguing about this stuff.’”
Indeed, Monty McIntyre urges lawyers to ask themselves “is this issue going to make a difference in the ultimate outcome. If not, don’t file the motion.”
Justice Haller said: “A lawyer should be viewed as a problem solver, not a problem creator. Your goal is to get the best result for your client under the circumstances. Ask yourself, what is my objective in this case? What do I want to accomplish for my client.”
Monty McIntyre added, “Your job is to serve your client’s interest, not to have your clients serve your interest.”
Justice McIntyre urged all new lawyers to find a mentor. “Somebody who can show you the ropes. Team up with a more experienced lawyer to show you the things you don’t learn in law school.”
One way to find a mentor, they mentioned, is through the San Diego County Bar Association’s New Lawyer’s Division mentoring program. Another critical point the panelists made is the importance of legal writing.
“Written arguments are far more important than oral arguments,” according to Justice McIntyre.
“95% of the decisions made are because of your writing,” said Justice Haller. Be a strong, succinct writer. State in the first one or two paragraphs – ‘this is why I win.’”
“Simplify your case,” Justice McIntyre stressed. “Don’t give multiple defense theories – it confuses things. It’s not an effective way to try a case.”
“Judges look for the most reasonable solution,” according to Justice Haller.
And Monty McIntyre added, “Jurors don’t care about the technicalities of the law, they just want to do what’s right. What’s just. Find the compelling story that gets to the essence of it.”
“But always within the confines of the law,” said Justice Haller.
Invaluable advice and insight, from what was indeed a “stellar panel.”