For some time now, business men, motivational speakers, executives and lawyers have looked at treatises on combat philosophy, military strategy guides and warrior memoirs for insight on how to manage and run businesses, motivate employees, as well as litigate cases. Popular books include Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War” and Miyomoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings.” These books have produced a plethora of quotable strategies that have nearly engrained themselves in executive and lawyer culture and lexica.
As a former Marine and 4th degree black belt in American Kenpo, I’ve learned a few lessons along the way that have been valuable in my litigation practice. The following are some of these lessons. In no way do I take credit for the creation of these lessons, but instead, am just passing them on.
Lesson 1: BAMCIS. Beginning in boot camp, Marines are taught a number of acronyms on how to approach situations, define things, stay focused, inspire discipline and motivation and how to be an effective leader. One of the first and primary acronyms Marine recruits are taught in boot camp is BAMCIS.
BAMCIS stands for: Begin the planning, Arrange for reconnaissance, Make reconnaissance, Complete the planning, Issue the order, and Supervise. It is the most basic approach to ensure effective leadership and accomplishment of a given task. The great thing about the BAMCIS approach is that it can be implemented at numerous stages of litigation, is a fluid process and can be amended or updated at any time. There can be a BAMCIS for the overall case, and there can be one for discovery, upcoming mediation and/or arbitration, or for trial. Here are some guidelines.
Begin the Planning: Planning alone is an important leadership, litigation and business skill. Preparing a memorandum, initial evaluation letter, litigation budget, or mock calendar is a great way to figure out how to get from “A to Z” in a particular matter or case. It is imperative to take into account your time, budgetary constraints, client expectations and other conditions. The focus at this stage is sketching out a skeletal plan of attack or road map.
Arrange Reconnaissance: Few lawsuits or client issues start with all information available. If you are lacking information, then reconnaissance is in order. I have found that often the best resource for information is the clients themselves. Most clients are more than happy to assist in fact finding as long as they are given the right direction or asked specific questions. Often times, at the beginning or during the litigation of a matter I will give “homework” assignments to my clients regarding information needed. This helps shoulder the load and provides for a more expedient way to get information.
At this stage, lock in a “go to” with respect to fact finding, whether it be yourself, a private investigator, paralegal, case manager, another attorney or the client. Reconnaissance can be both legal and factual so designate a person with respect to legal issues that need to be unraveled or explored.
Make Reconnaissance: This is the “intelligence gathering” phase where you discover the need-to-know details. Reconnaissance, depending on the stage of representation, can include asset checks, background checks,
factual research, legal research, database searches, sub-rosa, witness interviews, public records requests,
subpoenas, depositions or written discovery.
Complete the Planning: Now that you have the essential facts and law, you can finalize and expand on your initial plan. Fill in the details as much as you can. Your plan should be comprehensive enough so that it can be followed in your absence and flexible enough to change if needed. A three-minute dictation summarizing your plan, turned into a memo, can be invaluable tool if another attorney or assistant handles the case.
Issue the Orders/Instructions: Get everyone on the same page by issuing specific instructions to each person so that they will be able to complete their part of the mission/assignment or understand what is happening. Having the plan memorialized is a great tool to keep everyone working on the case and set real-time expectations for anxious clients who are new to litigation. I have found that memos with checklists and deadlines are great for keeping the process moving and for self-management of a delegated task.
Supervise: Now you exercise leadership by observing your people at work or doing the work yourself. Stay abreast of obstacles and victories as the lawsuit progresses. Micromanagement is typically almost never a good leadership tool. Tickler systems or calendaring reminders are a way to supervise without being overbearing. Your supervision should be keeping the end goal in sight!
Lesson 2: SMEAC. Pronounced ‘smee ack,’ this system is another acronym from the Marine Corps. SMEAC
means: Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Logistics, Command and communications.
The Marine Corps uses the SMEAC system to document instructions and orders for missions or operations. It is the essential way information is passed between Marines. It is a description of the who, what, when, where, why and how of a mission. (This is the “I” in BAMCIS.)
When either co-counsel, associate counsel, paralegal or legal secretary needs instructions or directions for a particular project or task, the SMEAC system is ideal. Here’s the breakdown.
Situation: This is the explanation of the situation. The key information as to what is happening at this point in the litigation, assignment or task. This provides context and is a snapshot or executive summary of the status.
Mission: This should be a brief and concise explanation as to what needs to happen. For example: “Our mission is to be able to impeach the plaintiff by showing that the alleged breach of contract never occurred.”
Execution: This is the “how” part of the plan: How are you going to achieve your mission? Detail the steps required. What are you going to do? Why? When? Where? Who is involved? The execution part of the process is usually the longest and should provide sufficient information to allow you [or your team] to go and do the job.
Administration and Logistics: This is about the logistics required to accomplish the goal. This can mean the applicable budget, timeframes, client and/or court expectations, policy limits and/or other parameters that you are working in.
Command and Signals: This is the who’s who of the job – who’s in charge, who do you report to, and how you communicate with each other.
With a SMEAC in place for any task assigned, all of your bases are covered. The SMEAC approach provides absolute clarity on how to proceed on any given task.
Lesson 3: “Attack the Attack!” If someone analyzed all the battles and skirmishes that the Marine Corps was involved in, one consistent theme as to why the Marines are successful is the “attack the attack” mentality.
Instead of looking at what an enemy can do to you, this mentality looks at what you can do to your enemy. It builds on the engagement versus balance approach. The “attack the attack” attitude can be a great tool to facilitate analysis when prosecuting or defending a case. Timely and aggressive discovery and pointed and justified motions can be used to set the tone of litigating a case. By attacking the attack, you put yourself in control and go beyond the reactive defensive posture no matter the scope of your retention.
Lesson 4: Semper Fi! If you have spent any time around a Marine or watched any movies about Marines, you will have heard the term “Semper Fi,” which is short for Semper Fidelis – the Marine Corps’ motto.
Semper Fidelis is Latin for always faithful. To the Marines, the phrase means always faithful to your God, your Country and your Corps, and the commitment to always do your job no matter the sacrifice.
In litigation, this carries over to the human side of the practice of law. Most of the time, your clients have not retained you out of some great desire to litigate. Instead, it is because they have a problem that they have come to you. If a client observes your faithfulness and diligence, even if the results do not meet their expectations, they likely will be satisfied due to their knowledge that you were utterly faithful to their cause.
For yourself, no matter what the result, you will know that you committed to the case and did the best you could. This lesson transcends the practice of law and truly goes to how you perceive and approach the world, including adherence to the code of professional ethics.
Lesson 5: Semper Gumby. Semper is Latin for always and Gumby is the green flexible children’s character of 1960s popularity. Semper Gumby means to stay flexible and be willing to adapt to any situation – adapt and overcome. The lesson of being flexible and open minded can keep a case moving when it seems like you are at a roadblock or impasse. Sometimes, flexibility in a position, a strategy or a desired outcome needs to be adjusted due to new information or changed circumstances.
Michael Pick Jr. has been practicing law in California since 2004. The Pick Law Office is located in downtown San Luis Obispo, California and specializes in representing clients in real estate disputes, business disputes, probate, litigation and trial. For more information about the Pick Law Office, go to www.picklawoffice.com.