My primary practice area is in appeals and has been since I started with the firm in 1983. However, I have tried a number of cases to verdict in the state and federal courts and, as a result, gained a lot of trial-level experience. I believe jury trial experience is essential to being an effective appellate advocate. It gives you an appreciation of the realities and practicalities of what happens at the trial level — how things really work in practice. And because the members of the reviewing courts are mostly former trial judges, some experience at the trial level helps you see and understand their perspective, and how that can shape their view of an appellate argument. But my “first choice” is still to practice in the reviewing courts.
How has your practice evolved in the last few years; from your perspective, what’s in store for the next few years?
As an appellate lawyer, it became apparent to me early in my career that it would be very difficult to develop a client following by doing strictly appeals. There just aren’t many clients with a steady stream of appellate work. Because the appellate practice exposed me to many substantive areas of the law, it allowed me to market myself as a trial lawyer in areas where frequent appeals had given me a very deep understanding of the law. That, in turn, allowed me to develop a client following in select practice areas. It also provided opportunities to engage in all aspects of pleadings, motions, discovery and trials, both bench and jury. At this stage of my career (31 years!), I am enjoying a greater emphasis on doing appeals again because I love reading cases, writing and watching how the law evolves, sometimes coming back full circle to issues I faced at the outset of my career. It’s fascinating. The appellate practice also allows me the time to be very involved in the training of our firm’s junior lawyers and to run our pro bono and nationwide CLE programs. I find that work extremely gratifying. In terms of what lies ahead, there is no question that in the wake of the recession, there are much greater demands upon us as lawyers to manage litigation for our clients in a more effective, predictable and cost-effective manner. Clients are using data mined by consultants to be highly selective about what cases to litigate and who they will use to prosecute or defend them. Meeting these expectations means you have to really stand out from the pack in terms of quality, responsiveness, integrity and efficiency.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
Find time for careful thought and reflection in your practice. Advances in technology are increasing the level and speed of communication like never before, and the communication occurs 24/7. All day long (and well into the night and weekend), we get a steady stream of emails, texts, cellphone calls, voicemail, traditional mail and faxes from clients or colleagues who are seeking immediate answers to important questions that affect people’s businesses and lives. You need to make time to research, think and respond with high-quality, thoughtful answers, rather than try to perform legal triage by quickly shooting back a “from the hip” or “curbside” email or text. And it’s only going to get worse as the pace of technology accelerates the speed with which we communicate.
What is the one technological device you could not function without daily?
Definitely my full size keyboard and twin monitors. It makes typing more pleasurable, and the twin monitors make it easier to review a record, research and write a brief without having to constantly shift between windows. But the best thing I ever learned was how to touch type. Who could have possibly foreseen in 1974, when I took typing in high school, that keyboarding would become so essential to my occupation and efficiency? I would not have survived as a hunt-and-peck typist.
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
I think that the members of the Illinois Appellate Lawyers Association represent the most civil and professional members of the bar I have ever encountered. It is an incredibly collegial group. We run into each other in cases all the time, sometimes as co-parties and more often as adversaries. There is a tremendous amount of mutual respect and admiration. No one pulls any punches, of course, but I have found nearly every member with whom I have had a case as an adversary to be cooperative, polite and never combative or unreasonable. We call each other to discuss ideas for arguments or to revel in each other’s success in changing the law. I think that is one big reason why the arc of my career has gone from appeals to trial work and back to appeals.
What do you do for fun?
Anything with two wheels is fun for me. I am an avid motorcyclist. It’s an activity that demands all of your attention and focus, physically and mentally, and so it gets work out of your head completely when you’re doing it. Like a mini-vacation. Bicycling with my wife, Anne Larson, who is a partner at Ogletree Deakins, is also a favorite activity. We frequently ride the lakefront and the forest preserve trails together, and, for the last three years, we have been participating in RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.
Cooking is also a pleasure. A friend at Mayer Brown turned me on to Blue Apron this winter, and it really got me back into preparing great meals at home for me and Anne.
Joshua Vincent is a partner at Hinshaw Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, working in their Chicago office.