An authentic lawyer? Is that a thing? The best lawyers practice law as themselves. To become a great lawyers, we have to stay true to ourselves and our values while vigorously representing our clients.
When I first became a lawyer, I was excited about my planned career. Despite my excitement, I was also very worried that I would no longer be able to be my true self once I began practicing law.
I had the idea that the cost of being successful is that I had to act in a certain way to succeed as a lawyer. I thought I would suddenly have to be elegant, classy, and poised. I tried (albeit quite unsuccessfully) to conform to these ideals. I did not know that being an authentic lawyer meant being an authentic person, both inside and outside the practice of law.
I thought I had to "fake it" until I made it, so to speak.
Anyone who knows me would laugh at the idea of me even thinking that I was to be elegant, classy or poised. Such words do not come to mind if someone were to describe me. Despite my best efforts as a young lawyer, I have never been able to come across these ways to anyone. Ever.
People would probably describe me as rough around the edges. People tell me that my working-class roots are evident in my mannerisms, my habits, and my speech.
As it turns out, this "lack of polish" has probably not hurt my career one bit. It is who I am. A lot of clients tell me that, before meeting me, they also had preconceived notions of how their lawyer would present to them. Some say they expected their lawyer to act superior to them. They are relieved when this is not the case.
Other lawyers I know do come from relatively privileged backgrounds. They naturally present with a certain poise and elegance. For them, being an authentic lawyer does include a certain elegance. Because such poise and elegance come to them naturally, they succeed in presenting in such a manner. This is what an authentic lawyer does.
Early on in my career, in addition to feeling like I had to act in a certain way that was very much unlike my usual self, I also thought that once I started in the practice of law, that I would have to set aside my personal values. I thought I would have to follow my clients' instructions no matter what and no matter how much those instructions were not "right" in my view. I believed I would have to follow instructions even if those instructions were against my values or my clients' interests.
Once again, I have been pleased to learn that nothing can be farther from the truth. The opposite is more the case. The more I act within my value system, and the more authentic I am as a lawyer and person, the more my legal practice has thrived.
The formula for being successful as lawyers includes getting to be ourselves and acting within our value systems. The authentic lawyer is the successful lawyer (of course knowing your practice area does not hurt either).
For example, my values have certainly influenced the way I practice family law. This is particularly the case in situations where separated parents are working on a parenting plan for their children.
I come from a large and boisterous family. In our family, just because someone has separated from their spouse, it does not mean we all have to turn on that spouse. We accept that marriages can be hard, and sometimes people fight and sometimes people could behave way better to one another. Such is the case not only during a marriage but during and after a separation.
When one of my sisters separated from her husband of 18 years, she maintained a relationship with his four children from his previous marriage. Her separation did not change the fact that those now adult children were her step-kids. Her stepchildren's kids are her grandchildren. It is now 25 years later from when my sister and her husband first separated. My sister still sees her ex-spouse's kids and grandchildren. They are all still part of her and our family. Not only that, her ex-husband, despite hurting her a lot when they separated, still gets invited to family dinners. This may seem weird to some people. For me it is not. As an authentic lawyer, my family background informs the way I advise my clients.
It is also true that such values are not the same for all lawyers.
Thankfully, what I have since learned in the practice of law, is not what I expected. Working within my personal value system taught to me by my family is not only acceptable in the practice of law, but it is a good thing. This not because my values are necessarily better than someone else's, but that practicing law within my value system is about me being an authentic lawyer.
The online free dictionary defines authentic as:
1. Conforming to fact and, therefore, worthy of trust, reliance, or belief.
2. Being so in fact; not fraudulent or counterfeit.
3. Law Executed in a manner so as to produce legal effectiveness.
Looks like being authentic is a good thing for lawyers.
Each lawyer has a different value system. Regardless of what our specific value system is, working within our value system is important. Being authentic to our values is what will make us succeed. This is particularly the case when we are family law lawyers.
Life demands that we be our authentic selves. If we try to be like someone else, we will certainly fail. Although we can incorporate traits, habits and qualities of people we admire, imitating someone else will just be a bad imitation of someone else. Opposing lawyers, clients and judges do not follow or engage with people who are not real. When we are real, however, we can represent our clients powerfully.
What does it take to be real, genuine and authentic? It takes sincerity, honesty, integrity, consistency, and character.
So how can we embody being authentic? Make sure our words are consistent with our deeds. Embody our values and beliefs. Practice what we preach.
By Val Hemminger, Family Law Lawyer
Val has created this website to share with her colleagues. She is not suggesting, by any means, that she is the best divorce lawyer out there. She is, however, suggesting that she is the best divorce lawyer that she herself can be. Feel free to share anything you find useful.