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Scheduling Lunch with a Litigator Made Me Never Want to be One

All's Well That Inks Well by Chris Wightman

When I started law school, I thought I wanted to be a litigator. It would be fun to work on cases where you have to dig through case law and statutes to form viable arguments and to go to court. I had an externship supervisor who liked to give me needle-in-a-haystack problems and I was pretty good at finding him the cases he needed. I’ve also been a performer for most of my life and watching court taught me that the courtroom is the ultimate theatre.

And then I tried to schedule a networking lunch with a litigator.
I think I had to reschedule it four times before we were able to meet.

I learned when you are a litigator, your life is not your own. Your clients and the court own you. If your client gets sued on a Friday, you might be scrapping your weekend plans to work on the response or packing your bags to visit the client to do some on-site interviews and preliminary investigation.

I think I could be a good litigator, but I don’t want the lifestyle. I don’t want my vacation plans cancelled at the last minute because I have to attend a hearing. Some people thrive on that type of excitement, but it would make me absolutely crazy. I want to generally know when I’m working and when my time is my own. And when I’m on my own time, I’m not answering the office phone or email.

Transactional law comes with its own challenges, but so far I know well in advance what my deadlines are and I can plan for my long days and my days off. (Yes, I take days off. . . not many, but I have them.) So far in my practice, I’ve discovered drafting contracts gives me perverse pleasure. I’d rather work on the front end and prevent problems than to have to deal with the jumbled mess that results when everything falls apart because people didn’t have their ducks in a row at the beginning.

I have friends and acquaintances who are litigators and they’re lovely people, but when I schedule coffee or lunch with them, I expect it to get moved at least once. It comes with their territory. I respect it, and I’m glad I don’t live in it.

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2 Comments

  1. Watergate says:

    “If your client gets sued on a Friday, you might be scrapping your weekend plans to work on the response or packing your bags to visit the client to do some on-site interviews and preliminary investigation.” Never happened in 20+ years of litigation to me, and I can’t think of a time it happened to anyone else. Most litigators, despite their self-image, really aren’t that important.

    People who routinely bail on lunch, after saying that a date and time are available, are flakes. They have decided that having lunch with you is less important than 100 other things they are doing. They would treat you that way regardless of their profession.

    Basing a career decision on the schedules of flakey people , or maybe just one flakey person, seems unwise. Also, markets change. Transactional people have more time on their hands in bad economies. There were times in the 80s when the M&A people were going 100 miles an hour. Not so much now.

    Often, a judge’s judicial assistant will call your office to schedule an argument, to make sure people are available. Trials are set many months in advance. If an argument conflicts with your schedule, you can often work it out with the other side and the Court. I can’t remember a time when someone had to cancel a vacation based on a court obligation.

    ASU is thinking of starting what would be a rough equivalent of a residency program for recent graduates. This would be wonderful for recent grads to get experience in a number of different areas, and learn so many of the practical parts of the day-to-day practice of law.

    Having to bail on lunch isn’t the reason to avoid litigation. Many other reasons exist.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m glad some litigators have lives that aren’t changed at a moment’s notice by their jobs.