July 29, 2020 Did You Know?

When I Was a New Lawyer

By Lisa Jill Dickinson
Lisa Jill Dickinson is owner of the Dickinson Law Firm, PLLC, practicing business law and civil litigation in Washington and Idaho

Lisa Jill Dickinson is owner of the Dickinson Law Firm, PLLC, practicing business law and civil litigation in Washington and Idaho

Lisa Jill Dickinson The and Now

What inspired you to become a lawyer? And what did you do before becoming a lawyer?

One of my friends was killed, and the police botched up the investigation. I was a freshman in high school. I wanted to be a criminal lawyer. Also, I saw injustices. I was a bit of a juvenile delinquent, and I saw the police usually taking away “the guy who didn’t do it” rather than the innocent-looking woman, etc. Basically, they’d just look at the group, and arrest the “hoodiest” looking one. Before law school I was a paralegal—I went to law school at 21 after taking a year off, so I didn’t do much before that.

How did you become involved with the ABA?

My good friend Jessie Harris, who worked with Randy Aliment, nominated me for the TIPS Leadership Academy, and I applied. I had been an ABA member for most of my career but hadn’t done anything other than reading the Journal. I am forever thankful for the TIPS Leadership Academy. Back then it was John Tarpley, Ginger Busby, Gail Ashworth, Peter Bennett, and a few others who were so welcoming to the TIPS newcomers.

What is the benefit of a new lawyer becoming active with the ABA?

Networking, CLE, publishing opportunities, travel, and life-long friends. . . .There are no downsides that I can think of! I wish I would have become involved earlier.

What early career practices led to your success?

My informal mentors. I did not know any lawyers other than a few who I had worked for as a paralegal. I am forever thankful for older attorneys who showed me the ropes and the nuances of practice. When I began practicing, there were less than a handful of female partners in civil firms. Rather than see that as a hindrance, I saw it as a way for me to stand out if I excelled. I was lucky enough that my firm of all male, all white attorneys (all partners, except me) gave me great clients to work with and backed me when I’m sure some of the clients did not want a super young, female attorney. My boss introduced me over lunch to a newer banking client who he was going to have me be the primary attorney for. He told the client that he was too busy but that I was capable of handling all of their work. I was busy trying not to drop my pasta on my blouse. The client casually stated that did not trust anyone under 30. I was barely 25. I kept my mouth shut with the satisfaction that despite his bias, I was representing his company, and he was paying the firm for me to do so. I’m pretty sure I smirked at him. For those of you who know me, you know my “smirk” face. Despite all of that, the client trusted me to do the work. My mentor had trusted my work product enough to put his reputation on the line and to get me a client. Find informal “helpers” or people to vouch for your work – it is much easier than going at it alone.

What is your advice for dealing with difficult partners, colleagues, or counsel?

Have an excellent work product. I have dealt with very difficult partners, ones with a life-view very different from mine, and very difficult opposing counsel. If your work is on-point, they will see you for the lawyer who you are, and you will have a much stronger voice when you finally do point out their deficiencies or rudeness.

Once, I was the only female attorney set for hearings that day. A “bully” attorney in a circle of attorneys waiting in the hallway pointed and loudly proclaimed, “Can you believe this little GIRL is bringing this motion against me?” Another attorney stepped up and said, “I know Lisa, and she probably wouldn’t bring this motion unless she was correct”. The other guys laughed nervously. I won that hearing. I gave the signature smirk. That “bully” attorney has since referred me cases. I have had many other cases where a “difficult” counsel on the other side eventually refers me cases and/or gives me a great review. I think it throws them off when someone doesn’t take their bait.

What is your advice for a new lawyer seeking to acquire, retain, and nurture client relationships?

Be friendly! Be real! Go meet everyone. Go stick your nose in circles where you think you don’t belong even if it’s uncomfortable. Don’t just stick with your buddies who think and act like you. Most of my referrals are from people I’ve met in the community, other attorneys, accountants, golfers. I am a terrible golfer. Doesn’t matter, go anyway. Talk to the attorney in the corner. They will be very thankful and you’ve probably met a new friend and referral source. Be a “real person”. My clients know the real me and have to take it or leave it. They may not like my advice, but they know it’s correct, and that it’s the truth.

I was also very nice to all of the firm’s clients when I worked at the firm. I got to personally know the management and the up-and-comers in the office, as my bosses had relationships with the owners. I made myself available to answer any of their questions, even those who were embarrassed to ask the firm partner, who may have been a little intimidating. Who do you think the new owners hired when the old owners retired? I have never advertised my services.

What gives you the most satisfaction?

Obtaining a great result for my client. Also, referrals from prior opposing counsel or other attorneys. Respect from peers is the greatest compliment.

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Lisa Jill Dickinson

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Lisa Jill Dickinson is owner of the Dickinson Law Firm, PLLC, practicing business law and civil litigation in Washington and Idaho. Appellate Tribal Court Judge and Pro Tem Administrative Law Judge. She is also a member of the House of Delegates, Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems, TIPS Council, Past TIPS Ethics and Professionalism, Solo Small Firm Committee, and BLC (Business Litigation Committee) Chair.