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Be a Diligent Lawyer

Special to the News Columns

Communication is the lifeblood of legal practice, and a diligent lawyer excels in maintaining clear and timely interactions with clients, opposing counsel, and the court

Jim Vickaryous

Jim Vickaryous

Diligence comes in many different packages, depending on the circumstances. I once met a new client who quickly outlined their problem. It was a simple matter, but important enough to this client that it needed the attention of a lawyer. I knew the opposing party. Indeed, I had just gotten off the telephone with the opposing party resolving another matter. I let my new client know this, and asked, “Do you mind if I call the opposing party right now and see if we can figure this all out?” In a moment, we were on the telephone, agreed to a solution, and had finalized the case. My client was very pleased, thinking that I must resolve every client’s problem as fast as hers. I laughed at myself a little bit and shared with her that this was the one and only time in my career that I had resolved a matter within an hour of meeting my client. Years later, this is still the case.

Everyone expects quick results in today’s marketplace. In the legal world, being quick can be detrimental. Diligence is not a timestamp. Diligence itself can take some time, just to get all of the facts to come to a legal opinion to render to a client or court. Frustratingly, sometimes after much research there is no good answer, and the best advice is an educated guess. Indeed, the motto on the Florida Supreme Court’s seal states: Sat Cito Si Recte, or “Soon enough if correct.” Diligence is both doing the work and taking the time to be both correct and prompt.

The virtue of diligence stands as a cornerstone in the foundation of a successful legal practice. Diligence, in the context of legal representation, goes beyond mere hard work. It encompasses a spectrum of qualities that distinguish an exceptional lawyer. Let’s review the multifaceted aspects of being a diligent lawyer and explore the key components that contribute to professional excellence. From research and client communication to courtroom advocacy and ethical considerations, the diligent lawyer navigates a complex landscape with unwavering commitment.

Only one sentence, The Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, 4.1-3, states, “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” Florida takes this wording from the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. It is a simple rule and makes a lot of sense. However, as with everything in the law, the “reasonable” part allows for much discretion. Sometimes being diligent in our representation of a client requires us to wait to act. Other times reasonableness requires immediate action. You are the lawyer, and your client expects you to figure out what is reasonable diligence.

Diligence requires an intimate understanding of the “drudgery” of the law and getting into the heart of the matter. There is no substitute. A diligent lawyer is an avid researcher, continuously seeking to deepen their understanding of the law and its nuances. Diligence in legal research involves more than a perfunctory examination of statutes and precedents. It requires a comprehensive exploration of legal landscapes. The meticulous examination of case law, statutes, and legal commentaries allows lawyers to build a solid foundation for their arguments, ensuring that they are well-prepared to navigate the complexities of each case.

A key hallmark of diligence lies in the rigorous review of documents. Legal representation often hinges on the accuracy and completeness of documents, making this aspect indispensable. Diligent lawyers invest time and effort in ensuring that every legal document, contract, or filing is meticulously reviewed, leaving no room for oversight or error. This commitment to detail not only instills confidence in clients but also fortifies the lawyer’s position in negotiations and court proceedings.

Diligent lawyers understand the vital importance of time management in the legal profession. Meeting deadlines for filing motions, responses, and other legal documents is not just a procedural requirement, rather it’s a demonstration of respect for the legal process and an acknowledgment of its impact on the client’s interests. A diligent lawyer organizes their workload efficiently, balancing multiple cases and tasks without compromising the quality of their work. Making sure your calendar is up to date is probably the best habit to keep yourself diligent. If it is on your calendar, you are much more apt to do what must be done on time and well before the prospective deadline.

Communication is the lifeblood of legal practice, and a diligent lawyer excels in maintaining clear and timely interactions with clients, opposing counsel, and the court.  Regular updates on case developments, prompt responses to inquiries, and transparent communication on legal strategies are the hallmarks of a lawyer committed to diligence. By fostering open lines of communication, the diligent lawyer ensures that clients are well-informed, empowering them to actively participate in their legal journey.

Diligence extends beyond the realm of legal tasks. It encompasses ethical considerations and professionalism. Upholding the principles of the legal profession, a diligent lawyer navigates ethical dilemmas with integrity. Professionalism in interactions with clients, opposing counsel, and the court is non-negotiable. The diligent lawyer operates with a commitment to the highest standards of conduct, earning the trust and respect of both colleagues and clients.

Diligence also requires leaving your office and going to legal conferences. You will be surprised at how much cross-pollination there is still in the law. The legal landscape is dynamic, with laws and regulations evolving continuously. The diligent lawyer recognizes the imperative of staying updated through continuing legal education. By actively pursuing additional certifications, attending relevant seminars, and engaging in continuous learning, a diligent lawyer remains well-equipped to navigate the ever-changing legal terrain. Adaptability becomes a strength, allowing the lawyer to offer informed counsel in the face of emerging legal challenges.

The legal profession thrives on collaboration and teamwork. Diligent lawyers actively seek input and feedback from colleagues, recognizing the value of diverse perspectives in enhancing case preparation. Collaboration extends beyond legal professionals to include experts and support staff. The diligent lawyer, through effective collaboration, creates a robust legal strategy that leaves no stone unturned. Organizational skills complement this collaborative approach, ensuring that case files are meticulously maintained, deadlines are met, and all necessary documents and evidence are readily accessible. After all, asking another lawyer “What do you think of this?” is not a weakness, but takes courage and shows diligence of thought.

It’s not a state bar or the ABA Model Rules that came up with the requirement that lawyers be diligent. It’s what our clients want and what justice requires. Perhaps diligence is the most important of all attributes that a lawyer must strive to be. Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln agreed, saying, “The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence.”

Being a diligent lawyer encompasses a rich tapestry of qualities that extend far beyond the confines of traditional hard work. From meticulous research and document review to effective communication, ethical considerations, and client advocacy, the diligent lawyer is a paragon of professional excellence. By embodying these principles, lawyers not only uphold the integrity of the legal profession but also fortify their position as stalwart advocates for justice. In the dynamic and evolving landscape of law, diligence remains the linchpin that sustains the pillars of legal practice, ensuring that lawyers navigate challenges with poise, competence, and an unwavering commitment to their clients’ best interests. Let’s all resolve to be diligent lawyers.

Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors. 

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