Allow me a moment to discuss what it’s really like to practice in rural Wisconsin. Recently, it became transparent to me that an attorney at a large law firm in Milwaukee had exactly zero idea of what I do on a day-to-day basis. We were in the – beloved – discovery phase of a case and sparring about which documents would be produced, what the protective order on confidentiality would say, and how long production of documents would take. (Yes, the real gems of civil litigation.) During this discussion, when I said I wasn’t really interested in putting together a privilege log unless I was told what was objectionable, Milwaukee counsel said, “What do you care? Just have your document review team do it.”
If memory serves me right, in response to that comment, I laughed out loud, spit coffee out my nose, fell off my chair, and immediately ran out of my office to reiterate this comment to my office mates. (Admittedly, sometimes my memory is a bit embellished.) But – to be real – I just could not believe that she thought that the thousands of documents that had been produced had been reviewed and produced by anyone but me. Milwaukee counsel clearly did not comprehend that I was the partner on the case, the associate on the case, the document review team, and everything else in between. The only thing I didn’t do on that case was lick the stamps.
Last September, the State Bar bused some law students and new graduates to Barron and Bayfield counties. They toured the area for two days and met local business leaders, judges, and lawyers. Overall, they appeared to have a great time. Because my office is less than 60 minutes from where they were scheduled to have dinner (that is, cocktails), I decided to drive up for the fun.
The agenda called for some short presentations. A member from the planning committee had asked me to share a few words. Someone wants my opinion? I quickly obliged.
If you are going to come up here to practice, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty.
What I coined my TedTalk was largely shaped by this recent interaction with Milwaukee counsel. I endeavored to explain that if you are going to come up here to practice, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty. You have to be real, you have to be nice, you have to be reasonable, and you have to be willing to do your own document review.
Last, and most pointedly, I told the crew that you must want to really help people. You can’t just be interested in churning files or racking up billable hours. You have to become a real problem-solver. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to get involved in big, complex, and fun cases. But, it does mean you have to keep your eye on the ball – how do I get my client out of this situation and on with his or her life. How do I solve the problem, not how do I litigate this case to the bone? Since this talk was post-cocktail hour, I suspect that I said something like, “up here, we just get sh*t done.”
Sound interesting? Come north, my friend! Turn in your silk stockings, roll up your sleeves, and meet me in the trenches. No document review team here – but there are some great lawyers and even greater stories about our big-city counterparts.