My family has a strong presence in the law: my dad is a New York State Supreme Court Justice sitting in White Plains, New York, and my aunt is a solo real-estate practitioner based out of Armonk, New York. The question when I was growing up was always whether I would follow in their footsteps or attempt to pursue my own career. Through chance, fate, and a global pandemic, I ended up here at Pace and spent a majority of my time working with the Advocacy program. I always knew I wanted to go to law school because as the old saying goes, “you can do anything with a law degree.” I definitely agree with that statement. However, what makes the law degree much more valuable is the fact that people need advocates. When people have an issue and they want to right their wrongs, they turn to lawyers to solve their problems. Now, aside from the general realization that lawyers are hired to solve problems, I am here to discuss some of the traits and abilities I’ve learned through my family and experience that make a good advocate.
For my first point, it is always about the client. The client will hire you and trust that you’re the right person for the job. You and the client develop a relationship where you will learn as much about them as anyone will in their entire lives. You are there to serve the client. Nonetheless, this person is paying you for your services – and in most instances at a rate well above the market average. You have to ensconce yourself in their problems and see yourself from their perspective. As a first-year associate, the partner who assigns you work is your client. This means that you should be expected to produce a work product that aligns with the partner’s writing style and grammar, which can then be given to the client. Pay close attention to how the partner does their work and reflect it accordingly, but don’t be afraid to add your own flavor to the motion or memo. After all, the partner wants to see you grow and develop into your own individual. Eventually, when it comes time to handle your own case, this is what the best trial attorneys do. They place themselves in the shoes of their client every time they advocate their position. It’s almost as if they’re living a double life, one of yours as an attorney, and one as your client.
Next, respect your partners, associates, and paralegals. There is nothing worse than someone who brings an ego to a firm and thinks they can outperform everyone. From my experience, the best attorneys to work for, or with, are the ones that care about your work product and avail themselves to your questions. Being engaged with the partners, associates, and paralegals shows that you care about improving yourself and respecting their feedback. At the end of the day, if you are hired to work at a firm and think you’re capable of reinventing the wheel, then so be it. But a partner hires an associate because they believe this person has potential. The partner(s) should want to see you grow and develop. In this profession, workplace culture is important because it gets very stressful. What a good advocate can bring to the workplace is a sense of respect, thoughtful disagreements, and thought-provoking conversations. After all, we are in the business of people.
After you learn to respect the opinions of the other people in your workplace, do not be afraid of constructive criticism. This is where the advocacy program is extremely beneficial. Nobody is perfect and that is what being an advocate is all about: making mistakes and learning from your mistakes. DON’T BE AFRAID TO FAIL. Law school can be such a toxic culture at times because nobody wants to fail. We all get ranked at the end of the semester. It’s horrendously competitive. When you find yourself in your first job or at a firm and you receive practical work, the partners will critique your work product. Don’t be offended because they took the time to make improvements to YOUR work product. This is beneficial to YOU because now YOU can grow. Strive to be outstanding, but don’t be afraid to fall short of perfection.
In conclusion, the best advocates care about themselves, their clients, and their employees. Sometimes what makes a good advocate is their performance outside of the courtroom. Clients want to work with someone who they can trust. You can be a bulldog in the courtroom and a golden retriever in the workplace. At the end of the day, being a good advocate revolves around a good foundation for understanding the client and their needs, respecting your employees and coworkers, and ultimately being able to have a sense of humility. Those are outstanding traits.
 Any student who has taken trial advocacy understands that the ego goes out the door. In my Fall 2022 trial advocacy class with Professor Jared Hatcliffe, I firmly remember everyone in my class wanting feedback after a opening statement, direct exam, cross exam, or closing statement. We knew that his feedback would make us better.