Civil litigation is a marathon, not a sprint. You get served with a motion and you often have weeks, if not months, to respond. So why do we as lawyers constantly have pressing questions, and need quick answers to those questions? Heavy workload, items with varying levels of importance, procrastination… there are a myriad of reasons why we may need to find the best caselaw or statutory authority fast. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources available on questions to ask a lawyer mentor.
There is no shame in starting your research with a broad search engine inquiry. Type any legal question followed by the name of your State (i.e., “quash subpoena” and “California”), and you will likely find the answer on page one. For quick access to statutes, the California Legislature has a government website (leginfo.legislature.ca.gov) which provides current-version Code of Civil Procedure, Evidence Code, etc. free of charge. It even provides Assembly Bills and related documents if you need to cite to the legislative intent behind a particular statute.
If you do perform a quick Google search, always follow that up with a confirming search on your legal database search engine, such as Westlaw or Lexis Nexis. You want to ensure that the authority you are citing is current and is not overruled or outdated by more recent precedent or statutory authority. Westlaw or Lexis Nexis are critical for this stage of your research. These databases also help you further your arguments by providing access to more on-point sources or even persuasive authorities. A go-to for civil litigation is the Rutter Group guidebooks—contained within most legal database search engines. They provide very well-organized citations for all stages of the litigation process, and for many specific areas of law (i.e., insurance litigation/bad faith). Rutter Group also provides sample memorandum for help in drafting your pleadings. Quick tip: In opposing a motion, use Westlaw to search the authority (i.e., the particular C.C.P. section) on which the motion is based, then click the “Notes of Decisions” and “Citing References” tabs on the top of that document’s page. This will provide you with voluminous caselaw discussing the applicability and non-applicability of that particular statute or case. This is a great way to quickly distinguish your case.
If you are a new attorney, you need to join your local bar associations. Not only will you meet like-minded people at conferences and events, but you will be able to share in the collective wealth of knowledge in your community. Most bar associations have a listserv (email channel) in which members can pose questions that are then answered in real time. If you’ve performed the quick internet search, tried to research on Westlaw, and can’t find the answer, reach out to your fellow listserv friends. The Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) listserv, for example, has daily inquiries—and helpful responses—on the topics of caselaw, case questions, which mediator to use in a particular case, etc. If you have just been assigned to a trial judge and need to decide whether to use your peremptory challenge, reach out to your local listserv for an up-to-date consensus on that particular judge and advice for new lawyers.
Many attorneys communicate in large groups through chat applications. Associate a firm into a case of yours, and you will likely find yourself on a group chat for that particular case. From here, continue to expand your network. Create your own channel and invite attorneys whom you have worked with in the past. These chat channels can be excellent resources for pressing questions. Justice HQ—based in Orange County and Los Angeles—has a members-only Slack channel where top attorneys share their knowledge daily, not to mention give case referrals and organize great community events.
Finally, if you have questions to ask a lawyer mentor, attend conferences and meet people. Not only will you make lifetime friends, but you will build your practice by getting to know the leading authorities in many areas of the law. One small benefit of these interactions will be the wealth of knowledge to which you now have access. Most attorneys are proud of the work they’ve accomplished, and are happy to share a motion template or give advice on how to proceed in a case under tough circumstances. And many attorneys are quickly accessible by email, phone, or text, and will respond with the specific advice you ask of them.
The answer is always out there if you know where to look (and what to ask).
Written by: Travis Davis