Being a successful lawyer is primarily about being able to convincingly play different roles with equal ease and élan. But then, while trust plays a significant role in legal profession, mask wearers are looked upon with suspicion because it’s difficult to tell the face from the mask, and even when the mask occasionally slips off, one still doesn’t know if what appears from behind the mask is the real face or yet another mask. A common perception about lawyer is that their true selves remain wrapped around and tucked away somewhere beyond reach.
But then, we all are different with different people, which makes others wonder as to when it is the face and when the mask. With lawyers it gets trickier because a lawyer is so many things to so many people and on account of the enormous influence that his profession brings in, every role that he plays is significant in the larger scheme of things. He is not just an individual among individuals, but the representative of the spirit and mechanism that makes order and justice possible. A lawyer must be graceful and effective in all that he or she does in course of being a lawyer and a responsible member of the society.
Advocacy is a fine art, and advocates are artists in their own right. But like all performing arts, before you add your personal touch to your performance, you need to know the craft and technique of the game itself. If falter on that front, you end up being a little too different and radical for comfort, which makes you less effective right from the start.
First and the foremost: Let the client speak. He or she is someone who looks upon you as the solver of problems and giver of relief. Clients, like any other category of human beings, are of several kind. But most of them wish to put across their problem in full without bothering to filter out the legally irrelevant, which is also because they have no idea as to what is relevant in the first place.
Give them a kind ear not only to keep them comfortable but also to find all about the issue that you are dealing with. Sometimes it might seem to be a waste of time, and in some cases it indeed might be. But patience is part of advocacy skill set that you must have in order to be a good lawyer and an effective advocate.
Also, sometimes clients make their own judgment and cut out the relevant considering it of no consequence while discussing their case. Allowing them some latitude to speak their mind out freely might give you a better perspective of their case. This is particularly useful for the new entrants to the legal profession, as experience with people gives one the eye to make quick judgments about what is relevant in a court of law and what is best left out.
As for the attire, if it is not the court where your client arrives to meet you, avoid being in the ‘lawyerly’ dress. No band, please. Do not look as though you are too smug about being a lawyer. An average client might find it a little too imposing and consequently find it too difficult to connect and communicate, which might be detrimental to the case and also to your long-term professional relationship with the client. Whether you win the day for the client is not completely in your hands because there are loads of other factors involved, but to inspire confidence in him that his case is in considerate hands is well within your reach.
Let your client know what you think about his case, including your doubts. Do not keep him in dark about anything. What are the chances of relief in his case must also be clearly communicated so as to forestall future grievances on part of the client. A client would eventually get over the loss that he might incur on account of losing the case, but he would still remember you as a lawyer who made and honest effort without pretending to be a super-lawyer. You would be lawyer he would trust for an honest opinion about all issues. It is this rapport with the clients that adds to the reputation of a lawyer, which is by far the most effective vehicle of success in this profession.
Solemn place that a courtroom is, demands that one accords due respect to the hallowed seat of justice. It is not a ‘workplace’ at Google where you could turn up dressed as you desire so long as you are comfortable and productive. Here, in the courtroom, the ‘presentation’ matters in all senses. This is not a profession where informality is prized a great deal. So, first off, dress conventionally and neatly because one’s first impression is created by how one looks. The courts and the judges are not really dismissive of personal styles. So, if you have a ponytail, and if it is very dear to you, well, you might keep it so long as it is neatly turned out and is not an eyesore of sorts. In short, present yourself in clean and proper lawyers’ attire without attempting stylistic changes.
Give a brief moment to the court to adjust to your presence. Let the court be over with the last case completely. Do not hasten to speak before the judge or judges are hearing you. Also, begin easy and do not try to jump to your central point too soon because that prevent the thrust of your argument from sinking in fully. This is a subtle art and takes considerable experience for one to get a hang of it. Majority of lawyers spend their whole careers without ever getting anywhere close to even marginally understanding the impact of ‘timing’. The argument needs to sink in, and the more complex the argument, the more diligent and deft delivery it requires. But there is no way to tell as to when it is time to cut to the heart of the matter. However, start with a very brief overview of the matter without straying too far away from your central arguments. This exercise is to ensure that the court is sufficiently warmed up to the issue and is receptive to the structure of your argument. The court may not agree with you, but your fundamental job is to make your point effectively enough. It is your duty towards your client and also to the court that you communicate your argument as effectively as possible so that the issue could be settled justly.
The reigning deity of a court is the presiding judge or judges, and a lawyer must be very mindful of that together with the fact that the judge might not find your argument convincing despite your best efforts and despite your personal conviction about the validity of your client’s claim. So, when your carefully constructed case falls apart and you stand face to face with an adverse judicial finding, take it with grace without looking upset. Having presented your case to the best of your ability, you have already done your part of the work. Even slightest display of displeasure is inappropriate. The Bench must be treated with the highest regard at all times, both inside and outside the court. Therefore, when you talk about the courts, judges and Benches, the reference must be respectful because this not only ensures that the judicial system is looked upon with regard that it deserves, but it also enhances your own esteem in the eyes of the client because we, the common people, subconsciously believe that those who are respectful deserve respect.
Lawyers are not ordinary members of the society for the way they look at the society and the way they are looked upon by other members of the society. Lawyers are feared, respected and considered influential. This casts a duty upon the lawyers to behave like gentlemen and be model citizens so as to serve as moral exemplars.
The law must be visibly respected, and since lawyers are men of law, they must be found obeying the law at all times. And if that entails inconvenience or some kind of monetary disadvantage, so be it.
And others’ perception of you plays a crucial role in making you a successful lawyer because people generally trust law-abiding, morally upright individual, and trust is one of the most significant criteria when it comes to appointing a legal representative. A lawyer, like a doctor, is privy to some of one’s most intimate details, which is why one would not want to give such sensitive information in the hands of someone that they cannot trust from day one.
Influence when used to further noble ends builds reputation in no time. So, try fighting social and political ills whenever time permits. This not only provides moral satisfaction but also makes you more visible and approachable thereby increasing the likelihood of people approaching you for legal advice. However, don’t involve yourself with such causes for the sole purpose of professional gains, for, sooner or later, the insincerity would show, and that would do more harm than good to your professional standing.
Try standing for the law, abide by the rules, ask people to stick to the rules whenever you can, and wherever the authorities seem to be in violation of the spirit of the law, do register a peaceful protest. Most of the people do not speak up because they are often not very sure if what is being done is not in line with the law. Being a lawyer you know the extent of legal permissibility in most of the cases. Also, your understanding of the law cannot be lightly challenged, which makes you the fittest to point out an illegitimate exercise of authority. To do so is also your social duty, being a legal professional. In the long run this is no favour because unpunished disregard of law dilutes the authority of the law and also weakens the legal system. And it is this legal system the preservation of which is at the very heart of advocacy. Therefore, fighting for the law is in a way also an exercise in professional self-preservation.
Nearly all experienced lawyers instinctively understand all that has been mentioned above. Some would lay greater emphasis on certain aspects while some would consider a few other aspects more important than the rest. In this sense every advocate discovers himself or herself and his or her own kind of advocacy. But the most effective advocates would strike a suitable balance among all aspects, and the art of advocacy is all about deftly engineering this delicate balance.
Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE as Cover Story [July 2011 Issue; Vol. XVII, Part 7]