But it’s crucial.
To point out just how important it is to stay abreast of the current changes in your field, I will recount a scene I witnessed in court one day:
An attorney and judge were sparring back and forth on whether the client was deportable from the United States. The attorney presented what appeared to be a well-reasoned argument for his client. When he was finished, the judge asked, “Have you read the latest case on this matter? I have.” The attorney replied, “I have not had time.” The judge then reenacted a scene from the movie The Paper Chase. He told the attorney to sit where he was and the latest case would be brought for him to read. After the documents were delivered, the judge announced in front of the whole court, “All these people here can wait while you read this case and tell me whether or not I am wrong.”
There are many ways to avoid being “that attorney” and stay abreast of current changes in law. My practice focuses mainly on immigration; therefore, most of my advice pertains to that area, but the general concepts apply to any field of law—there are organizations, bar associations, and sourcebooks for every specialty.
For those practicing immigration law, an invaluable starting point is Kurzban’s Immigration Law Sourcebook, published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and now its 13th edition. Almost every conceivable question is covered there. Another useful tool for staying on top of broad trends is CLE classes. But broad trends are not enough—changes can come fairly quickly, and you must look to other sources.
One of the best sources for current information on immigration is the AILA website (aila.org). Even if you’re not a member, reviewing the home page can alert you to the latest topics, which you can then research. Other good primary sources are the websites of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA; justice.gov/eoir/biainfo.htm) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS; uscis.gov). On the BIA site you can find the most current precedent cases, entries to the federal register, updates on temporary protected status, and the Immigration Law Advisor, which discusses hot topics in immigration law. The USCIS website also offers precedent decisions, a searchable policy manual, and immigration policy and procedural memoranda. USCIS and the BIA both offer an e-mail alert system for important updates.
For other fields of law, you should look to your local legal newspaper; the Lawyers Weekly that serves my area prints currently decided cases in a variety of fields and courts. Also, check with your local bar association for groups that cover your area of law. The various practice-area sections and forums of the American Bar Association (ABA) provide updates as well (americanbar.org/groups.html). And don’t overlook the ABA’s discussion boards and e-mail lists. Join one; they are a great way to get new information.
Even in this age of e-mail alerts and Internet searches, the most useful source of updated information I have found is good, old-fashioned networking. As I wait around for my case or interview to be called, I will discuss difficult cases with other attorneys. When I was new to the field, I was a little apprehensive about asking questions of people I did not know, but I soon realized that most attorneys are more than happy to give advice. Through this process I have developed a network of attorneys who can help ensure I am presenting the most updated case.
Ultimately, as free time becomes more difficult to find, you must set aside a block of time to shut off the phone, close your door, and go back to school. Research the updates in your area of law so you will never be “that attorney.” Be a student instead.