These pearls of wisdom originally appeared in Last Word-Supreme Advocacy (

Top Ten Thoughts from a Criminal and Civil Lawyer After 43 Years in the Profession

After almost 43 years of practice doing criminal and civil litigation, I’ve been around the block a few times. What have I learned? Maybe some experiences and lessons learned will be helpful to colleagues just starting out (and maybe even to others still going around the block). Here are 10 thoughts.

1) Check Your Ego At The Door

It’s not about you. The client wants a committed lawyer to represent him or her, not a prima donna (henceforth, I use him or her interchangeably to save on words).

2) Communication is Key

Speaking of clients, your clients will likely give you more headaches and grief than opposing lawyers. Make sure you communicate thoroughly with your clients ensuring that they understand what you are talking about. Confirm important discussions in writing and in English, or whatever, not legalese. Avoid fancy words like “henceforth”.

3) Ask Questions

I know lawyers are supposed to appear powerful, invincible and know it all—but it ain’t so. Don’t spend hours trying to reinvent the wheel. Very often you can just telephone government officials at a court office to get instant info on how to proceed, saving you from scratching your head trying to understand the Rules of Practice. Most staff are very kind and free with this information. Similarly most colleagues are also only too happy to mentor you through a problem. I guess this goes back to the ego at the door thing.

4) Ask Specifically For What You Want

Generally, judges, lawyers, clients and other mortals are not mind readers. Notwithstanding what many lawyers think, they do not possess the mental qualities of the Amazing Kreskin. Preface your goal up front, like in, “I want a restraining order”, “I suggest a settlement meeting”, or “I want more money”, (and with clients, avoid words like, “notwithstanding”).

5) Dangers of Using Emails

Speaking of communication, beware of the dangers of using emails. One such danger is addressing the wrong recipient. Woe is you if you mean to send a vital email to your client Paul Rosenberg and you key in “Paul” and you don’t realize your computer sent that message to Paul Williams, opposing counsel. Do that a couple of times and you may have to consider another line of work after a rendez vous with your errors and omissions insurer.

6) Use the Phone More Often

Alexander Graham Bell’s invention still works well, regardless whether he actually invented the phone in Brantford, Badeck, or Boston. A phone conversation is much more personal and it will allow you to sound out the other party and maybe hear body language. It will also avoid the problem of addressing the wrong Paul.

7) Don’t Dabble in Unknown Areas of the Law

I know business might be slow at times but generally speaking, taking on a criminal case if you are a commercial lawyer is courting potential disaster. Would you want your ophthalmologist to do your next colonoscopy? I thought so.

8) Always Be Civil

Never insult the other lawyer or her client. In 43 + years of practice I never yet heard of a case of a lawyer saying, “You are a total idiot and your client is an ass,” and lawyer B responds, “You know. I’ve been thinking about that and I agree. Here’s my chequebook.” As Mark Twain once said, “Always do the right thing. It will gratify most people and amaze the rest”.

9) Unleash Your Sense of Humour

This does not mean ridiculing people. It means allowing yourself to see the humourous side in imperfect situations such as traffic, inclement weather or dealing with companies that say, “Your call is important to us”. This attitude will create rapport, even with lawyer B. It will also help preserve your sanity.

10) Get a Life

I mean take breaks, lunch, mid-day walks and vacations. And when you take a vacation, take a vacation, meaning no email etc. checking. Paul can wait.

11) Have a Passion Outside of the Law

Whatever excites you, do whatever feels right. There has to be something. Mine has always been writing. (Some people even like golf. My views on that would be the subject matter of another article.)

You will notice I listed 11 suggestions, not 10. I guess you might add to the list: Always try to deliver more than you promise.”

Thank you: Marcel Strigberger (retired lawyer and author), [email protected],

Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2018

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