Do you want to become a better litigation associate in the time it takes to drink your next cup of coffee? Read on for top tips for litigating a consumer class action from the bottom of the ladder.
Do . . .
- Keep everyone informed about deadlines. One of your primary jobs is to identify and remember case deadlines. Litigation teams live and die by deadlines. Set calendar reminders for months, weeks, and days out, as needed. Plan ahead for drafting documents and remind partners and clients about upcoming deadlines to minimize surprise and last-minute stress.
- Check the court’s local rules early and often. You will not know the correct deadlines if you rely only on state or federal rules. Every court has specific local rules governing filing deadlines and filing formats, and many judges have particular class-action-specific rules. Research your court and assigned judges. Find out, for example, whether case discovery is generally bifurcated into class and merits stages or conducted together.
- Dive into the facts and documents. As soon as you have relevant documents from your client, dive in. No one else on your team has time to pore over the details of the facts. Review documents, take notes, and develop a case theory to share with your team.
- Communicate in a format that can easily be forwarded to the client. Partners are exceedingly busy. Draft succinct emails with your findings and analyses, using short sentences and bullet points or numbers to make them easy to digest. Use bolding and underlining to highlight critical information, like deadlines. Write emails anticipating that they will be forwarded to the client with minimal changes. Better yet, draft your email as if it is from the partner to the client.
- Remember the forest while you are in the trees. It is easy to get bogged down in the details of litigating a class action. Whether you represent the plaintiff or defendant, always keep class-certification issues in mind. They should inform your discovery strategy and case theory.
Don’t . . .
- Send a client a brief to review the day before it is due. Many class actions involve lengthy, substantive motions. For both large and small filings, always give your clients adequate time to review and provide feedback—at least a week if possible. Remember, it is not your case; you represent them. Give them the ability to consider the filings without jamming up their schedules with last-minute reviews.
- Be afraid to follow up with partners and clients (often). You are a good associate if you know and remember deadlines. You are a better associate if you remind your team about them often and follow up to meet them. If you send a draft filing to a partner or client and do not hear back within a reasonable time, follow up gently. They are likely busy, not ignoring you. If the situation becomes more urgent, do not be afraid to pick up the phone. You can avoid most of these situations by planning ahead. See Don’t #1.
- Miss a deadline. Litigators live and die by deadlines. Plan accordingly.
- Hide your mistakes. You will make mistakes, some larger than others. As difficult as it is to own your mistakes, you must do so and do so promptly. Alert your case team as soon as possible, and do your best to offer a solution to the problem. Do not try to fix everything yourself. Senior associates and partners have perspective and experience that can help resolve problems. Understand what went wrong and learn from your mistakes.
- Underestimate your role. Finally, do not underestimate your role on your case team. Look again at the tips above. Partners and clients rely on you to do the work they do not have time to do. Make their lives as easy as possible and learn from them as you go. Make yourself indispensable and you will not stay on the bottom of the ladder for long.
Leah A. Tedford is an associate with Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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