Getting used to the suit – tips for interacting with senior practitioners

The ADLS Newly Suited Committee was established last year with a mandate to support and mentor those entering the profession. Members of the Committee range from recent graduates through to those with five years’ PQE, from junior barristers to solicitors at firms both large and small, and from Auckland to other centres such as Palmerston North and Hamilton.

As well as assisting with networking, mentoring and collegiality events at ADLS, the Newly Suited Committee is inviting recently admitted lawyers to get in touch if they need information or guidance about professional and practical issues relevant to those new to the practice of law.

This week, the Committee helps #mysuitdoesntquitefityet with some advice on what to do when a more experienced lawyer is sitting on the other side of the table.

“Dear Newly Suited

I am a newly minted practitioner and get into a cold sweat whenever I have to deal with a senior practitioner on the other side. Are there any tips or tricks you can suggest to help me feel more confident?

Kind regards

#mysuitdoesntquitefityet”

The Newly Suited Committee responds as follows:

“Dear #mysuitdoesntquitefityet

We know exactly what you mean. The number comes up on your caller ID and you let it go to voicemail. You spend an hour preparing for the dreaded phone call. They have been practising for 30 years; you have been practising for 30 minutes. Dealing with more experienced lawyers can be intimidating and cause some serious anxiety.

Here are a few tips from the Newly Suited Committee to help you feel less stressed.

Before you deal with another more experienced lawyer the most important thing you can do is ensure that you are well prepared and know your instructions – it will help you to stay focussed and also to relax. Decide the best medium of communication. Think about whether a telephone call, email or letter is most appropriate in the given situation. Also, keep in mind that hiding behind type is not always the most effective communication method – sometimes a telephone call will accomplish the same things but also allows you to build a working relationship with the other lawyer. It can also be more effective if a small indulgence is required.

When you are speaking to a more experienced lawyer on the telephone or in person, remember to play it straight and keep it simple. Be confident but respectful. Listen to them so they feel heard but also because you might also learn something. Take your time to think when responding to difficult points. We can assure you that five to ten seconds of silence are better than a rushed and flustered response. If you are really worried about a given situation ask a senior lawyer to sit in with you.

Don’t feel pressured into making a concession that goes beyond the scope of your instructions (possibly a career limiting move). Simply take the time to clarify or obtain more instructions from your client or guidance from a colleague.

Never take things personally – it is your client’s position and their instructions you are relying on. Avoid unnecessary argument and debate – your client is not paying for a battle of the egos. Let attempted trip-ups, underhanded and unprofessional tactics slide. Maintain your professionalism at all times as the Rules provide that lawyers must act courteously and with respect towards each other. But neither should you accept belittling or bullying communication – explain that it is not productive and continue the discussion later.

If you are engaging in correspondence with a more senior practitioner, have a senior lawyer supervise, double check or assist you with your responses – copy them into written correspondence so any mistakes can be corrected without delay.

After telephone attendances and personal meetings, the Newly Suited Committee suggests that you make careful and contemporaneous file notes. Record any parts of the discussion that were agreed to be ‘without prejudice’ or ‘off the record’. After a telephone attendance with another lawyer, it can also be good practice to ask them to confirm the points of your conversation in a follow up email.

Remember: You are qualified and you are entitled to be there. Everyone has been a newly suited lawyer and had the same anxieties until they got some experience under their belt. It just takes a little while to get used to wearing the suit.

From the ADLS Newly Suited Committee”

ADLS’ Newly Suited Committee invites questions and comments from those new to the profession all around New Zealand on any issues they may be facing. Questions can be submitted by emailing newlysuited@adls.org.nz and will be kept anonymous. Responses will be published on a regular basis in LawNews.

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