Reflecting on three decades in the law reveals lessons learned, lessons to share

Balancing Life and the Law

April 14, 2022

Chicago Law Bulletin – April, 2022
by Jeffrey J. Kroll
Jeffrey J. Kroll is a founding partner of Kaveny + Kroll LLC. He has achieved settlements and verdicts in a wide range of cases, from trucking accidents to medical malpractice to sports safety cases. He can be reached a

As I sit back and reflect on my 32 years as a trial lawyer, I realize the practice of law has brought me many trials and several tribulations.

Candidly, my early exposure to the law was limited to some speeding tickets, a questionable disorderly conduct issue, and various misdemeanors accumulated during my college days, combined with the television show “L.A. Law.” As a naïve individual, I felt like those experiences accurately prepared me for law school.

I have been blessed with some great legal memories. I have had the opportunity to assist a lot of people. In fairness, the practice of law has caused me many sleepless nights as well.

For the newer admittees to the bar, some of what I am going to say may sound archaic; however, it is factual. When I think back to law school papers and research projects as a young lawyer, I cannot help but reflect on use of carbon paper. I hated carbon paper. Not only did it blacken my hands, but occasionally also my lightly starched white shirts. I was a dry cleaner’s dream customer.

As a young lawyer, I lived in the Daley Center. My pockets were often stuffed with change to call from court to inform the senior attorneys which judge we had, or other issues which arose at the case management conferences. Unfortunately, cellphones were not part of our arsenal.

When a trial was taking place, young associates had carte blanche to leave the office to watch the masters at work. I learned more from watching the greats than from any legal book or law school class. To this day, I can still repeat some of those jaw-dropping cross-examinations and portions of closing arguments which I heard three decades ago.

Everything took more time 30 years ago than it does today.

“Shepardizing” cases was not done at the touch of a button. Research was done with books. I believe looking at those ginormous centennial digests provided a detailed understanding of how to research. It taught me there is no substitute for hard work and dedication to our craft. I feel like we worked more hours than today’s newbie lawyers. I know it sounds old school; however, I must admit, I did not walk uphill to school in a snowstorm every day like my parents supposedly did.

Gradually, technological changes occurred. Computers allowed typos to be corrected. For a below average typist, it rivaled the invention of sliced bread. Sadly, we are now at a point where books, newspapers and even law libraries have essentially disappeared. All the technology we need is at our fingertips. Often, I sit and wonder how we were able to function for so many years without our current technology. It is easier today. Is it quicker today? Sure. Better? I am not sure.

One of the things I am so fond of in my 32 years as a lawyer is the “good fellowship” I have savored and treasured. I have made great friends. I have learned it is OK to disagree — without being disagreeable. I am proud of my profession. I practice in an area of law, the law of injury and death, which is often criticized. I do not make excuses for what I do, for those people I represent. I have learned so much from them and have attended more than 10 weddings of former clients. Sadly, so too, dozens of wakes and funerals of these families I had the honor to represent.

All of this reflection made me think about some tips on how fledgling lawyers can become better attorneys.

  • Find a role model and emulate him or her. To get better at practicing law, you have to find and follow better attorneys. What are they doing that you are not doing? More importantly, what don’t they do that you are doing? You can learn by example so that one day you may be leading by example.
  • Know the law.Years ago, lawyers would pass time on the motion or trial call by reading advance sheets or legal articles. That has been replaced with texting or playing games on the iPhone. There is so substitute for knowing and applying case law.
  • Read transcripts. Read the deposition and trial transcripts for other attorneys. If you want to improve your advocacy skills, learn how others do it. I studied lawyers with very different styles. I have learned something from each and every attorney that I studied and tried to recreate their styles — both plaintiff attorneys and defense attorneys. If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, plenty of Cook County lawyers should be flattered.
  • Read the writing of others and strive to “steal” what you feel works and avoid things that you believe will not work.Let’s face it, we as lawyers are best at stealing themes, arguments and ideas from others. Consider attending extra seminars. I guarantee you that you will learn something from each and every one.
  • Talk.It sounds simple but talk to people. It seems like we are getting to the point where oral communication is nonexistent. Our words are conveyed through electronics. Sometimes, when you put down the electronic devices and talk, you really get to know someone.

I do not want to sound like a “get off my lawn” kind of attorney that I, and other aging lawyers, wish to avoid becoming. Speaking instead, on behalf of my contemporaries, like the “Campfire Rule,” I hope we can leave the practice of law in a better condition than we entered.


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