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Allegra J. Lawrence-Hardy ’96
Partner, Lawrence & Bundy LLC
If you’re a person who can see the big picture, who enjoys turning over a problem and analyzing all sides of an argument, who enjoys standing up for what’s right and being in constant motion, then you might be a litigator.
That’s what I do each day as a litigator at a national law firm and I assure you that “typical day” has never been part of my vocabulary. On any given day, I meet with clients, sometimes to discuss a specific matter, but often just to gain a better understanding of their business. There are conference calls with other attorneys and clients, depositions, stand-up court appearances, and firm management and strategy meetings. Several evenings a week find me having dinner with clients. Because my practice is a national one, I spend a lot of time in airports and hotels, traveling most weeks of the year.
All this activity is focused on one goal—solving our clients’ most complex problems.
Here are a few things to consider as you take stock of whether litigation is for you.
You don’t have to be an extrovert, but you must be a team player.
Do you like working in a team? Litigators cannot work alone. As a senior litigator, part of my job is to select and bring together a team of attorneys who have the legal talent as well as the soft skills that can move us to a win. As a younger attorney, it’s essential for you to have both the intellectual capacity as well as the emotional intelligence that it takes to work in a group setting with other attorneys and business professionals. Be assured, those groups will be packed with big egos. You’ll need the confidence and skills to be both assertive and collaborative at the same time.
You don’t have to be an extrovert, but you must develop confidence. The entertainment industry and news media might lead you to believe that every litigator is a charismatic extrovert. Certainly, a big personality isn’t going to hurt you, but I know plenty of successful litigators who don’t fill the room with their presence. They’re effective leaders because they have the confidence that comes from preparation and knowledge. Experience calms any jitters they might have about standing up in court or leading meetings.
Preparation and listening are the keys to success.
I happen to be an extrovert, but my effectiveness as a litigator comes from my commitment to helping clients and the many hours I invest in preparation and team building. And although I enjoy talking, I’ve also learned that listening is a more valuable skill. The ability to read people is a competitive advantage, and the importance of listening and watching are often underrated. There is plenty of room for the confident introvert in litigation.
Time management is essential.
You must also become an expert in time management. The law—especially litigation—is demanding. There’s no sugarcoating it—big firm or small firm, you will work long, sleep-depriving hours. The deadlines are relentless and there’s always someone—a client, a colleague—who needs your counsel after hours or on the weekend. If this is the life you’ve chosen, you have to commit to learning time management and setting personal priorities. I have to be extremely organized to find time to be the wife and mother I want to be. In our family, we believe that no success outside of the home will compensate for failure in the home. That takes work.
Take advantage of all that Yale offers.
As a student at the Yale Law School, you’re enormously privileged to learn from some of the best legal minds in the world. Be sure you get all you can from courses on evidence, federal procedure and all of other the black letter law courses, as well as some of the excellent clinics the Law School sponsors. But Yale offers a lot more. One of the best courses I took at Yale was “The Book of Job and Justice.” While the course didn’t teach me any hard rules, it taught me a great deal about the power of the law to shape our society. Don’t miss opportunities that develop your intellect, broaden your horizons, and develop your perspective.
While litigation can sometimes unfortunately be combative, the goal is to utilize the legal system to resolve problems and find solutions. It will make you think creatively each day, constantly test your ability to react to changing circumstances and give you the satisfaction of helping clients who face challenges. If you find that appealing, you might be a litigator.