Dear Young Lawyer...Be Yourself

Hon. Tiffany M. Williams

Have you ever been the new lawyer whose evidence seemed to be kept out by the judge every time? Or perhaps your client was on the receiving end of a large judgment by a jury of what appeared to be only the plaintiff’s peers? Maybe every time your client seeks a permit from its regulatory authority, the answer is always the same—a resounding no!

Convincing decision makers is not easy, but a surefire way to ensure a high level of success is to just be yourself. When you are presenting your best self, everything that you are trained to be will come together to exude that you and your client are on the white horse riding away with blind justice.

Does that mean that every answer will always be yes? Absolutely not! But the first decision maker who you have to convince is you. If you are well prepared and believe passionately in your client’s position, then you are off to a good start. Remember to make it less about your own notions of what it takes to convince the decision maker and more about embodying your best self! Using the YOURSELF principles below will empower you to get to YES in any request.

Yielding to the Powers of Reasonableness and Reason

Accept that there is rarely only one right and just result. Instead, a decision maker must choose the result that is most fair and in the interests of justice. In presenting your position, make sure to avoid being unreasonable, particularly in your demeanor toward your adversary’s position. Avoid even the appearance of unreasonableness.

Outstanding Persuasive and Communication Skills

Nothing beats a smooth orator and a savvy, succinct writer. Aim for brevity and clarity in conveying your position, amplified by sound analysis of the facts, the law, and the practical implications. Persuasive style is good but true persuasion comes from being analytical yet understandable and practical.

Understanding the Legal Constraints and Public Policy Concerns

Perhaps the most underestimated aspects of influencing decision makers is to put oneself in their shoes and understand the limits of their authority and landmines that they need to avoid. Adopting this mindset will give your position strength because you will not inadvertently go out of bounds.

Righteous Motivations and Representations

Being forthright, honest, and ethical in presenting your position is key to establishing your credibility. Be genuine and precise in presenting all of the facts and never misrepresent the areas where your position is vulnerable. It is often the case that the most credible source of information trumps.

Strict Adherence to the Game Plan

Never, ever let the decision maker throw you off of your game plan. While you must be responsive to the issues that a decision maker raises as germane to his or her decision, ultimately your mission is to define the key question in a framework that leads to the logical conclusion that you win.

Enthusiastic Optimism About Your Cause

If you don’t convey your belief in your position, how can you expect a decision maker to choose it? From your written and oral advocacy to the selection of your attire, your enthusiasm about your client’s position should be evident and consistent. Your tone of voice, pitch, and facial expression should convey the professional enthusiasm that you will obtain a favorable result. Leave doom, gloom, uncertainty, and indifference at home.

Leading with Influence

Lawyers are not just advocates, they are also leaders. Actively deploy your leadership skills in seeking the best result for your client. The decision maker is the leader of the dispute forum, but you are the captain of your client’s team. Be poised and professional while maintaining a posture of humility and deference. Use your influence as the team captain to represent the team and bring home the trophy!

Forgetting Past Successes or Failures

“What have you done for me lately” should be your theme in thinking about your approach to each decision maker. Despite your track record with a particular agency, judge, or arbiter, each new decision deserves a fresh perspective and represents a new opportunity to gain a favorable result. Yesterday’s “yes” could be tomorrow’s “no thank you.” Take a deferential and fresh approach and never get cocky!

The leadership advice entrusted to me from my father, by his mother (which she borrowed from Shakespeare), I now pass on to new lawyers seeking to dazzle decision makers—“This above all, to thine own self be true.”


Hon. Tiffany M. Williams

Hon. Tiffany M. Williams is an Administrative Law Judge in Newark, New Jersey. Judge Williams is also the cochair of the Young Lawyer Leadership Program for the Section of Litigation. She is an author and recently published her first book entitled The Esther Project: Every Woman’s Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose.