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June 23, 2023 Did You Know?

When I Was a New Lawyer

By Christine Spinella Davis
Christine Spinella Davis then and now.

Christine Spinella Davis then and now.

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

I was raised outside Washington, DC, and developed an early interest in government and politics. After studying political science at the University of Maryland, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, as I genuinely enjoyed the learning environment. I considered two options—pursuing a master’s degree in public policy or a law degree. I eventually chose law school in DC, as this option would not only enable me to practice law, but also open doors should I chose to work on Capitol Hill or in public policy.

How did you become involved with the ABA?

I joined the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) after graduation, but I did not become actively involved until five years later when YLD appointed me the Chair of its Tort & Insurance Committee. Then, as I was aging out of YLD, I joined the Tort, Trial & Insurance Section of the ABA because my practice focused on insurance coverage work. I applied for and was named a TIPS Now! Fellow—and thus began my TIPS journey, including positions as the Chair of the Business Litigation Committee, Editor in Chief of the TIPS Law Journal, and Editorial Chair of TortSource. I am currently rounding out my term as a member of TIPS Council.

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

By far, the biggest benefit in my mind is the opportunity to develop relationships. In fact, many of these relationships have turned into true friendships for me. Additional benefits include the substantive member resources available to you, writing and speaking engagements, and opportunities for growth and leadership. Last but not least, you get to visit amazing places! Some of my favorite locations have been Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Coronado, Hilton Head, and Toronto.

What early career practices led to your success?

A number of practices I employed helped me early in my career. First, you must display a strong work ethic and be consistently over-prepared. If you are passionate about something, you likely will go that extra mile to produce top-notch work product. In addition, you should treat everyone—from the managing partner or CEO to the facilities assistants—with respect and kindness. Finally, keep your head down and do your work; do not engage in office gossip. Let the quality of your work speak for you.

What early career mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them?

I definitely suffered from Imposter Syndrome when I began my career. I remember sitting at my desk as a junior associate after a partner had praised a motion I wrote and thinking that I had just gotten lucky again and one day the sham would be up. It took me years to overcome those feelings. Know that if you have made it this far, you are capable and competent. Believe in yourself!

I also pushed myself too hard without taking sufficient breaks when I started out, eventually resulting in exhaustion, errors, and burn-out. Instead, try to find a balance. Get sufficient sleep, exercise, rest, see friends, do things to rejuvenate. If you have to push yourself hard, as the legal profession can surely require, take care of yourself when your schedule opens up again. Your work product will be better for it.

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

Do not get reactive or stoop to their level. Instead, maintain your composure and try to let the toxicity roll off you. Do not internalize how co-workers may treat you—remember, it is their issue, not yours. As for opposing counsel, though the practice of law is adversarial in nature, I believe you should always practice civility, even if your adversary does not. Be the better person, and you will be the better attorney.

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

First, maintain the friendships you have developed over the years. Friendships are relationships based on trust, which is essential to client development. Your life-long friends will develop in their own professions and may be in need of your expertise or may recommend you to others. Also, I recommend seeking out an active role in a professional organization. I am, of course, partial to the ABA and TIPS, but there are many options, both national and local in scope, in every area of law. True engagement in a professional organization (i.e., attending meetings, taking on leadership roles, and speaking and writing) will lead to trusted relationships. When others in your practice area, including both outside and in-house counsel, learn of your commitment and high-quality work product and know you on a personal level, it will inevitably open doors.

What challenges you the most?

Of course, my biggest challenge over the years has been trying to balance familial and professional obligations. My children are now 17 and 14 years old. My spouse and I have always had busy professional lives, but we worked together to be there for our children, often making professional sacrifices to be the best parent we each could be and seeking help when needed. Once I became a mother, I accepted that my professional progress would not always be a straight line. It has flattened out at times, but that is okay. Once my children are off on their own, I expect there will be ample time for professional growth.

What gives you the most satisfaction?

When practicing, I seemed to get the most satisfaction from successfully advocating a legal position through my written product. They say you have found your flow when you are able to immerse yourself to such an extent that you lose track of time. That would frequently happen to me while drafting motions and briefs on behalf of my clients. As an in-house counsel, I find that analyzing complex coverage questions and reaching a conclusion based on the policy and the law, whether in writing or while discussing with my colleagues, provides that same flow.

What are your future ambitions for the next five to ten years?

Now that I am in house handling complex claims and insurance disputes, my goal is to continue to grow at the intersection of insurance and law. I hope to use my coverage experience for my employer’s benefit, while also learning more about the internal workings and processes of the insurance industry.

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By Christine Spinella Davis

Christine Spinella Davis is Litigation Counsel at AmeriTrust Group, Inc.