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A Day in the Life: Fourth-Year Litigation Associate, Los Angeles, California

6:00 a.m.: I wake up, check e-mail to confirm no overnight emergencies have arisen, and then head out for a quick jog in the Hollywood Hills with my faithful pup, Laila. (Ok, this doesn’t happen every day, but we try.)

8:00 a.m.: I arrive at the office a little before most others. This first, quiet hour of the day is essential to my sanity. I take a few minutes to plan the tasks I want to accomplish for the day and clean out my inbox.

8:30 a.m.: Court-call. I only have substantive, in-court, oral arguments on motions or other matters every few weeks, but most weeks will have at least one status conference or other court appearance for which I can appear by telephone. Many judges in both the state and federal courts permit telephonic appearances for non-substantive matters. This is a huge time-saver for me and a money-saver for the client. That said, there are cases, clients, and matters where an in-person appearance will be necessary, no matter how innocuous the item up for discussion may seem. The decision of when to appear by phone is, therefore, a careful one. The court calendars are packed to the gills these days, so even a telephonic appearance can take an hour or more if my matter is at the end of the judge’s agenda for the morning.

9:30 a.m.: I get back to my day’s to-do list. Today I have a filing. A filing is the procedure by which you file a brief or pleading with the court. Copies of the filing must also be served on all other parties. Today’s filing is a motion to stay a court proceeding pending the resolution of a related arbitration. The memorandum of points and authorities supporting my motion has been reviewed by the partner on the case and the general counsel of the client’s company. In this case we’ve had plenty of time to prepare these papers so the review process has progressed over the past week or so. I don’t always have the luxury of so much time for preparation. The motion not only cites relevant statutory and case law, but also relies on factual and procedural information about the case and the related arbitration. In order to include such information in my motion I must include a declaration swearing to the truth of the facts asserted and attach copies of the various documents referenced in the brief. There are strict formatting, notice, and service requirements for these filings, and I will spend most of the morning checking and double-checking that everything is in order. I am assisted in this by the paralegal on the case, my assistant, and our filing clerk.

12:00 p.m.: It’s incredibly tough to cobble together even two hours of uninterrupted time to work on just one project in the middle of the day. Partners’ e-mails, clients’ calls, and colleagues stopping by are a continuous disruption and distraction. But they also make my day varied and interesting. When I really need to focus I close my office door, decline calls, and stop checking e-mail for an hour or two. Then I’m sure to leave myself some time to review what I’ve missed when I come up for air—in this case a half hour before I take a lunch break.

12:30 p.m.: Lunch. It’s easy to fall into the habit of grabbing a quick lunch and munching at your desk while you’re reviewing documents or browsing an opponent’s discovery responses. But it’s not the best use of your time. I try to have lunch with a contact outside the firm once a week and with a colleague at the firm once a week. Two lunches out a week may not seem that ambitious on paper, but believe me it takes real commitment.

2:00 p.m.: Back to the to-do list. This afternoon I’m drafting an opposition brief to a motion to compel further discovery responses in a civil trade secret misappropriation action involving two competing SAT test-preparation services. Discovery (propounding it, responding to it, meeting and conferring on disputes regarding it, and seeking judicial intervention when all that fails) constitutes the bulk of my work on most of my civil matters. Rarely is a case fully disposed of on the pleadings and rarely does a case end up going to trial. Virtually everything else in between is “discovery,” and you quickly get the hang of it. Today’s brief concerns the scope of financial documents the opposition can reasonably seek from my client. They claim every check, every receipt, and every document reflecting any type of economic transaction is relevant to damages issues. I’m arguing that a production of year-end financial balance sheets and ledgers should be sufficient. The trick is to somehow convince your opposition, and failing that, the judge, that in a world of zealous advocates, you are just being reasonable. I work hard to develop a working rapport with opposing counsel early in a case. It paves a smoother ride down the road.

3:30 p.m.: I take a break from drafting my brief to meet with a new client and our in-house tech support department about the document collection and review process we will have to undertake. Electronic discovery has become an incredibly expensive and time-consuming part of modern litigation. Some argue it’s rarely worth the trouble. Regardless, it’s here to stay, so I follow a couple of simple rules to ensure the most efficient process possible. First I try to reach an agreement early in the case with my opposing counsel on the format and scope of electronic discovery. In many cases, I represent the larger organizational entity in the litigation and so the potential burdens on my client to search for and review electronic information are potentially much higher. By reaching mutual limitations on how the search will be conducted it’s possible to at least give my client a good prediction of these costs if not to limit them substantially. The other key is to get my firm’s litigation support folks involved in the client document collection. This ensures that information is collected from the client in the manner consistent with our review process and eliminates confusion and redundant work.

4:15 p.m.: Coffee break! One of the things I love about my firm are the regular pilgrimages down to our building’s coffee shop. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but I join my colleagues as often as I can for this afternoon tradition. I get to hear about other cases in the office, complain about whatever absurdity has transpired in my own, and catch up on office goings-on in general.

4:45 p.m.: Document review. I am definitely a morning person and by late afternoon my mind is wandering. This is the perfect time of day for work that requires less intellectual rigor, a.k.a. document review. I’m fortunate to work at a small firm that generally avoids the most document-heavy cases, but all cases have document review. At the end of a busy day I actually find an hour or two of flipping (or clicking) through a couple hundred documents pretty satisfying. I feel productive without feeling exhausted. And before you know it, it’s time to go home.

6:30 p.m.: I head home. Dog and dinner await. I’m married to another litigator and after dinner one or both of us plop down in front of the TV with a brief to review or some e-mail to respond to, but I rarely have the motivation to work more than an hour or two at home. Tomorrow is another day.