Helping attorneys avoid detours and digressions: Wagstaffe interview, part 2

Helping attorneys avoid detours and digressions: Wagstaffe interview, part 2

Part two of a two-part series

Last month this newsletter featured insights from award-winning judicial educator and practicing attorney James W. Wagstaffe, primary author of The Wagstaffe Group® Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial, a LexisNexis® exclusive source available on the Lexis Advance® service, as well as via print, eBook and LexisNexis® Digital Library. This month, Wagstaffe explains how insights, checklists and even video available through the guide on Lexis Advance can help attorneys avoid detours and digressions in their civil procedure work.

Focusing on what matters

Wagstaffe is recognized nationally as the authority on federal civil procedure and is consulted frequently by judges, other law firms and clients. He is one of the most sought-after First Amendment/defamation lawyers in the country and has represented broadcasters, newspapers, magazines, celebrities, public officials and a host of others—as both plaintiff and defendant. For the past 30 years, he has educated the judiciary as an instructor at the Federal Judicial Center’s annual “New Judges Workshop.” Wagstaffe also has been moderating Federal Bar Association panel discussions around the country focusing on “How to Win a Case from a Judge’s Perspective.”

Wagstaffe recently shared reflections on why focus is so essential today and how information professionals can help attorneys reach their objectives.

In his teaching experience and in jury trials, Wagstaffe has found “moments of understanding” the most rewarding aspect of his work. “It’s watching the people with whom you’re communicating have light bulbs turn on in their eyes and face as you communicate. So in teaching, it’s when students get it—what a rewarding moment. In jury trials, it’s when the jury begins to understand the theme of your case through your witnesses, presentations and visuals. And it’s the same when I teach younger lawyers and judges—when they get it and see how it works, that’s number one for me.”

On the other hand, Wagstaffe said the most frustrating aspect of working as a litigation attorney and educator is “watching chaos in action.” Wagstaffe has seen “inefficient chaos where lawyers litigate cases and they are doing things that have no possible application in the final trial. Mere expenditure of time with no purpose.”

He added, “There are two Ds I don’t like: detours and digressions. Some of that comes from the age that we live in with multi-tasking.” How can people avoid the two Ds? “Everyone thinks that learning is all about answers,” Wagstaffe said. “But learning’s all about questions. Asking the right questions. If you ask the right questions, you can avoid detours and digressions because you’re focusing on what matters.”

Wagstaffe recalled an insight he used to hear from his father, who was a small-town attorney: “My Dad used to always say to me that, in life and in law, ‘You need to distinguish between what matters and what doesn’t matter.’ And that’s, I think, a good lesson.”

To help lawyers ask the right questions and stay focused on the next steps involving concepts like removal, venue, personal jurisdiction and subject-matter jurisdiction, Wagstaffe worked with practicing and winning attorneys, active judges and court clerks to write The Wagstaffe Group® Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial, which provides insights, checklists and more than 170 embedded online videos.

The attention span for rigorous learning has been shortened,” Wagstaffe said. “That’s a challenge … how are you still able to communicate your stories and help people learn in a way that can be synthesized? We use videos to help manage and conquer that short attention span.”

He added, “My theory is you use all available tools to assist those who are learning or looking for reminders. So it’s videos, it’s practice tips, it’s updated information, all in a single location. All those things facilitate synthesized learning so people can implement immediate benefit.”

 

Staying focused on changes in the law

In addition to comprehensive information on long-established law, the online version of The Wagstaffe Group® Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial includes weekly Current Awareness updates on hot topics and new developments. As new cases are decided and new rules and statutes are enacted, Current Awareness articles are posted to provide immediate guidance on those cases. Current awareness updates cover Supreme Court rulings, significant circuit court decisions, major litigation developments, new rules and new statutes.

For example, Current Awareness provides updates on new removal decisions and related forum selection clauses, which affect lawyers in state and federal practice—and even non-litigators. Current Awareness can answer questions like “How do you draft clauses for a contract? How do you write it? How do you make sure you keep a case in state court and not federal court? How do you control the venue? How do you avoid certain motions?”

Here’s another question Wagstaffe mentioned: What happens if you have a case in which one party selected the forum selection clause and one didn’t? “There’s a new case out of the Second Circuit and the Seventh Circuit that addresses how to deal with that question,” Wagstaffe noted. “We’ve got it. Go to Current Awareness, and you’ll find it.”

 

Citations from judges across the country

With the Current Awareness updates, “you’re not just getting citations from last year or the year before,” said Wagstaffe. “You might be getting a citation from a week ago. When we defend issues, we drive people to case law.”

He added, “I’ve had the good fortune of training federal judges across the country and teaching them for the last 30 years. During that time, judges have come to rely, I hope, on me as a source. We’ve already gotten citations from judges in Louisiana, California and elsewhere. Judges can cite to the main text, to transcripts of the videos and to the Current Awareness content. I’m confident we’ll have hundreds and soon thousands of citations in decisions from judges.”

For more insights from Wagstaffe and tips for demonstrating the guide to attorneys, see the November – December issue of this newsletter.

 

More information

For more details, contact your LexisNexis® account representative.

 

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