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Turning Experience into an Asset: One Lawyer's Transition from Jurist to Private Attorney

Is there life after the bench?  Yes, according to former Judge John S. Holston, Jr. who wrote in the New Jersey Law Journal, "In my view, there clearly is a stimulating professional life in the law awaiting a judge after a career on the bench."  Although he had some concerns about returning to the practice after more than two decades on the bench, Judge Holston has found the transition to be challenging, but manageable, as well as pleasant and enlightening.

Last year, Judge Holston retired from the bench of the Superior Court in New Jersey.  The former judge served nearly 23 years at the trial court level and in the appellate division.  Upon retirement, he returned to be of counsel to Holston, MacDonald, Uzdavinis, Eastlack, Ziegler & Lodge, the law firm he and his brother had founded 36 years ago.  At the firm, Judge Holston is focusing his work in two main areas of the law: litigation and developing a private arbitration and mediation practice.  In litigation, he finds that the knowledge of the substantive law he gained as an appellate judge has served him well, particularly as he consults on legal issues with other lawyers in his firm, writes and edits court briefs, and performs original research for cases.

Also, like many other retired judges, Holston is developing a private arbitration and mediation practice.  Particularly useful to him as a mediator have been the skills he developed while conducting settlement conferences as a trial judge.  He is now helping parties to a dispute reach settlements of their cases.  He looks forward to serving as an arbitrator, too.

Interestingly, Judge Holston has discovered that some of his work as a private lawyer can be more difficult than some of the work he did as a judge.  For example, he has to do all the original legal research himself; there are no comprehensive trial briefs from opposing counsel to guide him like the ones he enjoyed when he sat as a trial judge deciding motions for summary judgment.  Similarly, he has no law clerk to check citations or search for the subsequent history of cases and statutes.  Nor does he have colleagues on an appellate panel who can edit his drafts of judicial opinions and offer their guidance.  No longer does he serve as a neutral finder of law and fact; instead, he must advocate for his clients' interests.

At the same time, attorney Holston remembers well his perspective as Judge Holston, so he can anticipate accurately how other judges will see the cases he presents to them.  In fact, he can likely be a much more effective advocate because of his years on the bench: he knows from first-hand experience what judges will find helpful as they make decisions.

The former judge readily admits that he needs continuing legal education in the transactional areas of law practice.  While he doesn't say so in his essay, Judge Holston will likely be a more effective lawyer as he prepares wills, trusts, contracts, and other business documents because he understands very well how a judge looking at those documents will view them in the event a dispute concerning them lands in court.  John Holston's story provides a great example of the kind of success judges can enjoy in the practice of law after they conclude their service on the bench.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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