May 25, 2005


My regular readers might better sit down for this one.

I have always tended to be one of those anal and rigid "by the book" kinds of people.

Shocking, I know.

When I was a young attorney carving out a reputation for myself, I heeded some damn good advice given to me by an older, well-seasoned attorney I greatly respected. A gentleman by the name of Mr. Ciambotti told me to pick one thing on which to base my professional reputation and character and whatever else I did, never to lose sight of that one thing.

Mr. Ciambotti was also the man who convinced me to leave the huge firm where I had worked following my graduation from law school and hang out my own shingle. He believed in me. More importantly, I believed him.

At twenty-five years old and three years out of law school, I opened my own practice. My bread and butter in those early days were family law cases with steady helpings of divorce and child custody.

Ever aware of Mr. Ciambotti's words, I made credibility the cornerstone of my reputation. Before hearings or trials, the judges often held pre-trial conferences with the attorneys to get a feel for the issues and give guidance to encourage the parties to work things out without court intervention.

In my dealings with opposing counsel, as well as the court, I set forth the law as I understood it to be, as well as those facts which I could support with reliable testimony and evidence at hearing and trial.

To further drive the point home, I was also unwilling to compromise for more than my clients were willing to give up or for less than my clients were willing to take, depending on the circumstances. Thus, during those formative years as a young attorney, I litigated just about everything. After a couple of years of slugging it out almost daily, that no-nonsense approach garnered me a reputation for being a straight-talking and fearless combatant.

While the "straight-talking" glove fit, I was far less about courage or fearlessness than I was about getting the most accurate facts before the judge and having the appropriate law applied to those facts.

I believed if the judge were given enough relevant information, a fair and just outcome would come to pass. Mind you, persuasion and casting the light most favorable to my clients were also active concerns; however, I firmly believed in the system and if I played by the rules and did everything I was suppose to do, justice would prevail.

On the downslope of my twenties, I should have begun to realize I was doing both my clients and myself a disservice. I should have further realized not every case needed to be zealously litigated and the lines between right and wrong, justice and injustice, and fair and unfair were wide and blurred. However, it is only on the backside of my thirties have those things begun to become apparent.

Looking back, I note my tactics began to change about six years into the practice of law and three years after becoming a sole practitioner. Around that time one of my divorce clients sent his father-in-law to me.

The father-in-law had an eighth grade education and was a self-made millionaire many times over. He was not well-educated, but this client was clever, shrewd, and ruthless. I handled his will and other personal affairs, then began converting his limited liability companies into corporations. I was one of three or four attorneys handling his varied business interests.

One afternoon this client called me. He was mad as a wet hornet. Apparently, he had spent the day hovering over another of his attorneys who was defending one of his companies in a contract dispute. Client wanted to fire the attorney and have me take over the litigation.

I advised him against changing horses in mid-stream, but offered to sit shot-gun on the next hearing as back-up. Well, his other attorney and I had already done battle a time or two and, not surprisingly, when he heard I was going to be attached to the litigation, he outright quit and I ended up taking over the litigation anyway.

Without going into the relative merits of my client's case here and now, I told him what I thought his exposure was and how I thought we could resolve the situation without going to trial. Something, up to that point in my career, was virtually unheard of.

I basically told the client he personally was the biggest liability to settlement. A man twice my age at that time, he was flabbergasted and wanted to argue with me. I explained his constant hovering at hearings and other meetings belied the relative non-importance such litigation should have to a man of his stature and resulted in the complete undermining of his attorney.

After he calmed down and digested my thoughts, he asked what he should do. I told him quite plainly: "We have a discovery hearing on Tuesday. Be there early. I have another hearing and will advise the court I may be a few minutes late. When I arrive, shake my hand, pat me on the ass, I don't care, just do whatever you have to do to instill total and complete confidence in me, then leave me alone and let me do my job."

To say that rendered him apoplectic is an understatement.

On the day of the hearing, I ran a few minutes late. When I arrived, I was fully prepared and dressed to the nines. Client walked over, patted me on back, then turned to opposing party and counsel and said: "Gentleman, let me introduce you to my attorney. Don't let her good looks fool you, she's here to kick your ass." With that, he turned and headed out of the court room. Over his shoulder, he added: "By the way, I'm headed to Rio, if you need me, call my secretary."

After the hearing, I put the case in high gear and utilized my client's deep pockets to set days of depositions and buried my opponents in discovery requests. I was aware my client did not want to go to trial, but the only way to convince the other side to settle was to "not negotiate" and appear to move full steam ahead towards litigation.

There was no down side as far as I could see. We could not force the other side to compromise and if they did not, we still had to be prepared to try the case.

Within a week opposing counsel proffered an offer to settle for an amount less than what my fee would have been to take the case through trial.

So, what's the moral to the story?

I am still not sure; however, I do think idealism has a place in youth and what one does with it or as a result of it shapes one's character and reputation.

Three things convinced opposing counsel and party to settle: my client's absolute confidence in me, my reputation as a litigator, and the costs of preparing the case for trial.

The biggest of those factors was definitely money. The law and the facts of the case had less to do with the outcome of this particular suit than who had the deepest pockets and who was more willing to spend to win.

Why am I contemplating my exploits as a younger attorney?

Well, I may have the "opportunity" to return to that old way of life, i.e., go back to the courtroom. I have now been away from the "game" longer than I was in it. Do I have the energy and intensity necessary to re-establish that reputation I worked so very, very hard to build so long ago? Probably not.

More cogently, is there a better way to harness what's left of that idealism and make it work more efficiently for me at this stage of my life and career?

Posted by Christina at May 25, 2005 06:21 AM


When I'm faced with alternate paths in my life, and the one to take isn't immediately obvious, I do an imaginative technique: I close my eyes and imagine what would happen as I take one path, then the other. How does it play out over days, months, and years? I usually get a strong sense of which is darker, which lighter, which improves me, which doesn't. Or which path I need, even if it's going to be a hard one.

Posted by: Mark at May 25, 2005 07:20 AM

Tough questions, Christina. Good luck with them!

Posted by: zonker at May 25, 2005 08:18 AM

OK, Missy, I am about to share a "universal truth" that I discovered in my late 20s. When being impaled on the horns of a dilemma, whichever choice requires LESS rationalizing IS the right choice. Do the needful.

Posted by: ZiPpo at May 25, 2005 08:28 AM

You ask if you have the energy and intensity to re-establish your reputation. I think you do. You are an incredibly bright and clever woman with an incredible set of ethics. I do not doubt that you could do it again, and do it well.

The question is more "do you want to" than "can you." And, that's something only you know.

Here is what I know: whichever path you choose, the road will rise up to meet you and lead you to where you want to be.

Posted by: Phoenix at May 25, 2005 09:45 AM

I have complete confidence in your abiliites. I am sure that it will be old hat for you. Take it from a litigator, your tenacity, doesn't wane, your technique simply changes ;)

Posted by: Oddybobo at May 25, 2005 10:35 AM

Go for it! To use an old clique, life is far too short and no one knows what tomorrow may bring - I know...

Posted by: Ed Hart at May 25, 2005 11:46 AM

There are always two choices. Two paths to take. One is easy. And its only reward is that it's easy.

Posted by: Michele at May 25, 2005 12:16 PM

A cynic is a broken-hearted idealist.

I am a cynic at heart, broken though it is.

You are not.

The fire of your idealism will help you, just be sure it doesn't rage out of control and consume you.

Posted by: Jack at May 25, 2005 12:17 PM

Yes, there's a way!

A) Teach Law. Instill some of that drive into the next generation of lawyers.

B) Run for office. Let that integrity spread out into the community. Run for JP. Start to network, then go for a local bench. I'll bet you could do pretty well, and who knows where you could end up!

Posted by: El Capitan at May 25, 2005 01:22 PM

"We have a discovery hearing on Tuesday. Be there early. I have another hearing and will advise the court I may be a few minutes late. When I arrive, shake my hand, pat me on the ass, I don't care, just do whatever you have to do to instill total and complete confidence in me, then leave me alone and let me do my job."

That, my dear, is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom cannot be taught, only demonstrated through example. You cannot go back to the naivety of youth. It's time to delegate, show a young protege the ropes and teach by example. Enjoy your success and integrity. You've paid a lot of dues and you deserve many "pats on the ass!"

Having said all that don't get "Fat, dumb, and happy!" I know there's no chance of our Feisty doing that! Oh, and when you do litigate, don't forget the bustier!!!!!!

Posted by: at May 25, 2005 02:40 PM

Ask yourself these questions: Do you really want this...or are you simply flattered by the 'opportunity'?
Will it entail giving up more of 'yourself' or your family life and, if so, are you willing to do that?

Follow your heart. The rest will follow.

Posted by: Pammy at May 25, 2005 04:07 PM

i have complete confidence that you can do anything to which you put your mind. you have the abilities, the grace, the feistiness to succeed with whatever you want to -- be it returning to this old flame that kept you up all those nights and had so many victories, or finding something new and intriguing, or even the comforts of those activities to which you are now accustomed. trust yourself to make the right decision for you -- the rest of us do! have fun with your life, Chrissy; it only comes around once, after all.

Posted by: amelie at May 25, 2005 07:01 PM

That is a great achievement- to be sole so young. I don't know - I have a few lawyer readers (apart from you and Sadie!)One has just changed direction because of the high stress levels in trial work. Tough decision - good luck!

Posted by: Ruth at May 25, 2005 07:38 PM


Posted by: caltechgirl at May 25, 2005 09:59 PM

Always. (Yes I am an optimist, why do you ask?)

Posted by: Alexandrine at May 25, 2005 10:54 PM

There's always time, Christina.
For me, I've always found my "Word" to be my strongest bond.

Posted by: Joe Wiess at May 26, 2005 06:20 AM

Working with a lot of attornies, just remember do what you want to do with your career. Nothing is worse then an attorney working in an aspect of law they do not fully enjoy.

Posted by: Contagion at May 26, 2005 07:48 AM

Back to Main