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Rookie Mistakes to Avoid as an Associate: Citing To An Overturned Case


"In a trademark dispute, I prepared the first draft of a motion based almost entirely on an analogous appellate court decision in our jurisdiction.  The partner was ecstatic about the work and filed the motion with few revisions.  In the response brief, the opposing party pointed out that the case had been overturned on the very point we were citing it for.  This was incredibly embarrassing and, in hindsight, an inexcusable mistake.  We lost the motion outright.  I was lucky not to lose my job, as well."

How to avoid this disaster:

First let me say that a mistake like this does not apply to litigators alone.  This is a story about diligence and focus - skills that apply to all lawyers, the nature of your practice aside.  

As lawyers, not only is it important that we research thoroughly, efficiently, and effectively, we have to stay on our mental game at all times.  While every first year law student knows to Shepardize and not to cite to a case that has been overturned (in fact, after first year you should know to look closely at the citing history of any case, no matter what the Lexis or Westlaw citing history symbol suggests), a mistake like this happens when we are rushing or tired or distracted.  

To avoid a mistake like this, remember that your job as a new lawyer is to be careful.  No matter what pressure you are under, no matter how thinly spread you are, it will be your responsibility to keep track of small details, manage the nuanced aspect of any case, project or deal you are assigned to, and close the loop on anything the more senior attorneys have left unfinished.  In fact, because the substantive work will be new to you, the best way to prove your worth early on is to excel in non-substantive areas (such as mindfulness and diligence).  

And consider this: in the aftermath of a project, saying you were busy or overworked will not resonate as a good reason to have made an error.  

If you keep your unique role as a new lawyer in mind at all times - that is, the role of being detail oriented and diligent - you will be focused and clear headed and this type of oversight will not happen on your watch.

Desiree Moore is the President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices.  Ms. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates. She can be found on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.