When did Peter Gabriel become a trusted advisor to small law firms? Well, he may not have realized it, but when he sang, “Don’t give up, ’cause you have friends, don’t give up, you’re not the only one,” he was providing sage advice to small law firms, the first of the six ingredients of successful small firms.
(1) Tenacity. In long, hard fought cases, small firms need to employ a variety of methods to help them succeed, and perseverance is one of the most essential. Cases can take years, and require enormous energy, resources and financial commitment, and the involvement of numerous personnel. Attorney Brent Savage was recently quoted as saying that a major lesson of Dubois v. Brantley was “Don’t give up.” In that case, the Supreme Court of Georgia had originally denied a request to take a case that the state’s Appeals Court had decided, but changed its mind after the plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration. The plaintiffs ultimately succeeded in the Supreme Court. Similarly, in Reckis v. Johnson & Johnson, 471 Mass. 272 (2015), our eight attorney law firm worked for twelve years, up against several law firms and hundreds of lawyers. The case involved a seven year old girl who suffered life-altering injuries from taking Children’s Motrin. We succeeded at the trial in 2013, and again in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts a few months ago. Don’t give up.
(2) Teamwork. Strong camaraderie, trust, and teamwork among the attorneys and staff is critical. Everyone involved in a case should be working together for the best interest of the client. There is no place for one person to try to “outdo” another within a small firm.
(3) When necessary, seek help. Peter Gabriel reminded us that we have friends, we’re “not the only one.” Seeking help from outside when necessary has a time and place. For example, for over thirty years, I have specialized as an appellate attorney at our firm, handling not only the appellate issues, but also similar issues involving legal research, writing, and oral advocacy. Some small firms do not have the resources to have a designated appellate attorney, or attorneys who specialize in other areas. Those firms should look elsewhere for co-counseling and similar opportunities with other attorneys.
(4) Stop and reflect. “A stitch in time saves nine.” Taking time to discuss and strategize is critical. In the hectic world of litigation, it is very easy to devote all the firm’s time to drafting pleadings, taking depositions, working with experts, trying cases, etc. A couple hours around a table with attorneys and staff to discuss one or more cases is absolutely critical. Cases are greatly enhanced by sharing ideas, thinking about how to address the issues in the case, considering the best use of resources, and simply taking the time to decide the best way to go forward. This is also true for an individual attorney: it is difficult but tremendously useful to set aside quiet time to reflect on cases.
(5) Set the agenda. Don’t let the other side set the course of the litigation. How did David beat Goliath? As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, “David was smarter, quicker, had the advantage of surprise and had an alternate strategy.” David chose the fight. Goliath was expecting a fight with spears, and, as Gladwell wrote, he “was a sitting duck for a rock fired at 150 mph.”
(6) Credibility. Develop and maintain credibility through your actions and words. You are in it for the long haul. Over the years, judges, opposing attorneys, clients, experts, reporters, and others will get to know you and your law firm. Your positions should be reasonable, and your representations honest. You should show a true commitment to your clients, the legal profession, and the betterment of society. You and your firm’s good reputation will enhance your ability to succeed in the profession.
Work with each other while turning to others when necessary, take the time to think, set the strategy, conduct yourself reasonably and tell the truth, and, thank you Peter Gabriel, for reminding us: “don’t give up.”