Read more tips for associates working remotely in the second part of this two-part series.
Pre-COVID-19, associates had the ability to walk into a senior attorney’s office and ask all sorts of questions regarding the practice of law—whether they concerned high-level case strategy or simple task-specific issues. During the COVID-19-era, however, most attorneys are now working remotely. It has thus become increasingly difficult for associates to have these collaborative and/or informal discussions with senior attorneys.
There is little doubt that an associate’s growth has been impacted by this pandemic. To help, we identified a few strategies that associates can implement—whether working remotely or at the office—to navigate the uncertainties and realities of practicing law in the COVID-19 world.
The below tips come from experience and mistakes we made (and learned from) while working on a case. Incorporating these practice pointers may help improve your skill set and, ultimately, help ensure the best possible outcome for the client.
Understand Court Rules & Procedures
A lawsuit has been filed against your client in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division. As the most junior associate staffed on the case, you become familiar with the rules and procedures that govern your case. The proceedings for a civil action commenced in federal district court are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district courts also have local rules and, frequently, judge-specific rules. Notably, the local and judge-specific rules often differ and may conflict, depending on the court you are in. For this hypothetical lawsuit, you must consult and comply with the following rules for any action taken in the case:
- Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
- Local Civil Rules of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas
- The district judge’s specific procedures
The foregoing rules advise each party of case management procedures, deadlines, requirements for motions, discovery limitations, trial procedures, and so on—failure to abide by these rules could endanger your case. Associates should consider (depending on lead partner’s preference) sending the team a proposed action item list with impending deadlines and tasks every month. You should update the action item list as the case proceeds and send periodic calendar reminders to the team. If you incorporate this strategic exercise into your practice, you will alleviate stress and help move the case along.
Taking the time to understand the rules applicable to your case early in the litigation will help put the client in the best position to succeed. Therefore, save a copy of the applicable rules that govern your case because they will be consistently referenced throughout the litigation.
Don’t Forget the Basics
Once the lawsuit is filed, senior attorneys will likely rely on the associate to develop the case. The associate should have an extensive knowledge of the facts and governing law because she or he will likely be responsible for conducting discovery, drafting motions, and managing the case. It is important to stay principled and keep good habits while working remotely. In other words, stay organized! Below is a list of strategic exercises that associates should consider implementing at the initial phases of litigation.
One of the preliminary tasks an associate should determine is the law governing the dispute. In several instances, the substantive law to be applied will be stipulated to amongst the parties. Often, however, there will be a dispute regarding which law applies. Let’s assume that you are in the latter situation: The plaintiff, a California entity, filed suit asserting various tort and contractual causes of action under California law against your client, a Texas entity, in the Northern District of Texas. In this situation, you must familiarize yourself with the laws of both states. You must also research the choice-of-law inquiry that will be applied by your court. By engaging in this analysis early in the litigation, you can determine which state’s law is more favorable to your defense and develop a case strategy moving forward.
Associates should consider preparing a spreadsheet with each cause of action with the factors that must be established (under laws of both states) to prevail. An updated version of the state’s jury instructions for each cause of action can be used to prepare the spreadsheet. As the case develops, you can build on this spreadsheet by identifying the strengths and weaknesses in the case. And, during the discovery phase, this spreadsheet will be useful in preparing discovery requests and depositions questions; especially if the questions emphasize the factors opposing party will have difficulty in establishing.
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