Pretty much everyone in the legal profession knows that law school does little to teach students about the practical elements of practicing law. Most people learn the nuts and bolts of legal practice by working under partners at law firms who have more experience with legal matters than they do. However, from my own experience, sometimes attorneys can learn much, if not more, from co-defendants’ counsel than from partners at their own firms. Lawyers should be open to considering advice and the model of co-defendants’ counsel (so long as the interests of the clients are aligned) to gain more experience in legal practice.
I learned how helpful co-defendants’ counsel can be in learning legal principles at the law firm I worked at after leaving Biglaw. At that shop, attorneys were assigned a number of files, and each associate was responsible for almost all of the tasks associated with the files. It was rare for a partner to be involved in the day-to-day aspects of each case, especially on my team on which the partner had bigger fish to fry than the daily tasks of managing each case.
Shortly after joining the firm, I was tasked with filing a summary judgment motion against a very large law firm and in connection with an extremely complex case. The co-defendant was also filing for summary judgment on almost all of the same grounds as me. The co-defendant’s counsel generously offered to meet with me to discuss strategy and to make sure that we presented a united front in that summary judgment cycle. This lawyer offered to read my papers and provide feedback, and I did the same for him so that we could each have multiple eyes on our papers.
This co-defendant’s counsel also gave me valuable “nuts and bolts’ information about the case. For instance, the co-defendant’s counsel told me where to go to submit the stipulation adjourning the motion and how to serve the papers on the other parties to the case. When it came time to argue the motion, co-defendant’s counsel told me how oral argument would go and let me moot my arguments with him. and I heard his arguments so that we could make sure that each of our arguments were as unassailable as possible. This not only ensured that the co-defendant had a better chance at winning its summary judgment motion because of the united front, but the co-defendant’s counsel gave me valuable information that I used on countless other cases throughout my career.
Even a seasoned lawyer can learn much about prosecuting or defending a certain kind of case from co-defendants’ counsel. For instance, especially earlier in my tenure hanging out my own shingle, I took all types of matters so that I could build my business and expand my practice. A lawyer can do all of the research they want about handling a given matter, but nothing quite beats viewing the model of an attorney who has substantial experience in an area of the law and is willing to answer questions you may have.
One time, I represented lesser players in a certain type of lawsuit that I never handled before in my career. Fortunately for me, the other parties, who were much more responsible for the claims alleged in the lawsuit, were represented by a large law firm that specialized in this area of the law. The lawyers at this law firm were extremely helpful and generous with their time, and they knew that the defendants stood a much better chance in the case if they presented a unified front and worked together.
This other law firm took lead in drafting all of the forms involved in the case, and it was easy enough for me to copy their forms for use in that matter and in the future. The other attorneys also took point at the conferences, and I was able to second their opinions. Since that lawsuit, I have worked on a few other litigation matters in the same area of the law as that lawsuit, and each case I handle, I get more experience with those types of matters. Due to the help and advice of co-defendants’ counsel, I was able to better manage that litigation and give myself the confidence I needed to take on more cases of that type later in my career.
Of course, lawyers need to be extremely wary of co-defendants’ counsel in certain instances, since they have an ethical duty to diligently represent their clients and may suggest moves that help them more than you. I remember, when I was a “baby lawyer,” I wanted to ask certain questions as a deposition, and a co-defendant’s counsel actively supported this decision. I later found out that asking those questions would help plaintiff keep my client in the case, which co-defendant wanted so more people could pay the settlement! In any event, co-defendants’ counsel can be a resource in many instances, and lawyers should be more open to take advice from other lawyers involved in a case.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at email@example.com.