By Val Hemminger; Westshore Divorce Lawyer and Creator of Be The BEST Divorce Lawyer.
What are the qualities of a successful lawyer that you would need to be able to grow your family law business?
When I first started out in the practice of law, I had believed the stereotypes I saw on television. Lawyers to me, seemed wealthy, hard-nosed, well put together and extraordinarily smart. Of course the tv lawyers would show up in court (without having had to prepare for hours on end) and come off as brilliant and well-spoken, crushing the opposing party with their brilliant words.
Prior to starting my articling position, I had only met a real lawyer once or twice in my lifetime. The truth is, I had no idea what the qualities of a successful lawyer were. That is why I decided to share with you what I have learned over the years.
When I started my first law job. It was a long time ago now, I started articling in 1995. I worked in a traditional “old boy” law firm. It was so “old boy,” in fact, that of the 12 lawyers that worked there, only two were female. The joke at that law firm was “We have two female lawyers, one of whom is actually a woman!” The point is that the other female lawyer was more aggressive and macho than the male lawyers that worked there. So, that left me as the only female lawyer so to speak. It was so traditional that long-standing clients of the firm could not seem to get their heads around the fact that the firm did, finally, have female lawyers.
I had the goal of becoming a successful lawyer, however, at least partly as a result of starting out in such a traditional legal environment, I believed that the qualities of a successful lawyer were very specific and limited. I had a very narrow definition of what it meant to be successful.
It sounds pretty bleak and boring doesn't it? And while it may be true for some lawyers, it was certainly not true for me!! I thought to myself, “ How am I ever going to fit into this profession? ”
Now, I don't want you to despair. Over the years, I have learned that the qualities of a successful lawyer have almost nothing to do with those old stereotypes or the narrow definition of a “ traditional ” lawyer. In fact, as long as you are authentically you, there is a lot of room for us non-traditional, or “ new-fashioned ” lawyers in our industry. If you are unusual, weird, not an “ old-boy" be heartened. The legal profession is changing and you can safely ditch any of the above descriptors if they do not describe you. If they are authentically you, that is okay too, the point is you get to be you and still be successful.
Stereotypes aside, here are the top 6 qualities of a successful lawyer ( what it really takes to be successful in this profession ), at least according to me:
1st. You take radical responsibility for everything that occurs in your life and your law practice. In order to grow a successful law practice and succeed, you must take full responsibility for absolutely everything that happens within your law practice. Being a successful lawyer is not just about being smart and hard working, it is about ensuring that you take responsibility for things to run smoothly. Just the other day, I was working with a lawyer who did not have her video conferencing software working properly. This was stressful for her, her clients, and for opposing parties. This problem had been going on for months and she didn't have it fixed. When asked about it, she blamed her staff person. That is not one of the qualities of a successful lawyer. Everything is up to you. If you can't figure something out, get help from someone who knows how, but do not pass the buck or make excuses. As the saying goes "the buck stops with you."
2nd. You are never too busy to do your job. We all get busy and overwhelmed, however, this is no excuse for missing deadlines, or not preparing for your upcoming hearing. I recently reviewed a case file and saw that a lawyer was served with a Notice to Admit ( they had 14 days to respond to the Notice to Admit ). The lawyer had not only failed to respond to the Notice to Admit, but they had not even bothered to read the document that stated very clearly they had 14 days to respond. When I asked the lawyer about this, they said they didn't have time to review the document. Now the client will experience cost and stress to have the issue rectified. If this lawyer had scheduled quality and uninterrupted time to work with this client and their file, this mistake never would have happened. If you are too busy, increase your rate ( somehow and reasonably), or take on less work.That way your clients will be happier.
Third. You schedule the important activities in your life and law practice. I am sure you know how easy it is to get sucked into your email inbox and go from one fire to the next all day. As you know, for people getting divorced, everything is a dire emergency. In order to take hold of and control your legal practice and embrace the qualities of being a successful lawyer, you must manage and control your schedule and prioritize the tasks that are important. In my law practice (and life), I schedule absolutely everything that is important. I schedule my client work, catch up time, and even my exercise. If I don't, it doesn't happen. For example, I am an early riser. I prefer to be up by 5 am, but sometimes sleep in until 6 am. I spend the early mornings doing my spiritual practice and / or writing articles like this one. At 7:30 am my alarm goes off. This is what tells me to get going for my day. As long as I listen to my alarm and get going at 7:30 I have time to walk in the woods for 45 minutes before my work day starts. When I do my woods walks, everything in my life feels aligned. It's about a lot more than health for me. What I find is that if I don't schedule that time in, the whole day goes by and I haven't done my walk. What is scheduled, becomes prioritized and happens.
4th. You take dispute resolution training, a lot of it, so much so that you are a qualified mediator. Although law schools are now touching upon the importance of interest-based negotiation and other dispute resolution strategies, they have probably not gone deep enough to make you a great negotiator. Lawyers with in-depth skills-based dispute resolution training make better lawyers. They represent their clients better, they negotiate better, they are better at court hearings. When I am admiring the qualities of a successful lawyer colleague of mine, it is always the case that they have decided resolution training. The other great tip is that when you have this training, your job is much less stressful and way more enjoyable. In British Columbia where I live, the Center for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute is THE place to learn these skills.
5th. You have a growth-oriented mindset. One of the qualities of successful lawyers (and others ) is that they always have a passion for growth and learning. They never know it all already. They always know there is more to learn and expand upon in terms of skills and knowledge. This growth mindset can not only be applied to your area of practice, but other areas of your life including your outside interests. Grant Cordone, a very successful entrepreneur, says you must be observed with learning and serving in order to succeed.
6th. You are obsessed with serving. I don't know about you, but when I first started deciding to become a lawyer and ultimately began practicing law, it was all about me hoping to have a great lifestyle for me and my family. Although I don't think there is anything wrong with that, over the years, things started to change. I remember when I first had initial consultations with a potential new client, I would be thinking in my mind "do they have the funds to hire me"? "will their case be any good?" "How hard will this case be?" Not surprisingly, I didn't get hired each and every time. When I shifted my thinking to putting my own thoughts aside and diving deep into how I could give this person the greatest amount of assistance and advice within the hour we had together, it was not only a more enjoyable process,I started getting hired virtually every time I met with a new potential client. The qualities of a successful lawyer include being obsessed with serving our clients.
If you do not have the qualities of a successful lawyer as I have listed above, do not fret. I have great news for you. We are not static creatures. We are humans that can grow and develop right up to the point we leave the planet. Think about how you can embrace the qualities of a successful lawyer so that you can create a successful law practice and life of meaning.
Whether or not you are starting your own law practice, building your own law firm, or having a solo law practice, you can take this guide of what it takes to be the most successful lawyer you can be.
Your future is bright my friend.