What makes a lawyer great?

We’ve all heard the "Philadelphia lawyer" stereotype.  Now Molly Peckman at the Legal Intelligencer in Philly has interviewed an array of "lawyers’ lawyers" in the City of Brotherly Love to compile a list of traits that make a lawyer great.

  • "Never take your knowledge base and experience for granted — constantly enhance and refine each."
  • "Never take your clients for granted — constantly keep them top of mind, and focus on adding value as they, not you, define it."
  • "Never take your colleagues for granted — none of us can do this alone and it wouldn’t be half as much fun if we could."
  • "Great lawyers are people who know how to keep everything that is important about life in a proper balance."
  • "Never forget, and always expand upon, the passions you had before you became a lawyer."
  • "Be curious, always. Work wholeheartedly and with all of your energy on whatever it is that is in front of you because good things always will follow."
  • "Take risks."
  • "Listen well."
  • "Lawyers need to "remember that your client is there for your advice and judgment."
  • "Pay attention to every detail, and don’t always rely on your initial analysis — challenge yourself."
  • "Act vigorously, but treat your adversary with civility."
  • "The best lawyers recognize, and never forget, that their eyes and ears are much more important faculties than their mouth. Observe more, listen better, talk less."
  • "To become a great lawyer you should surround yourself with great lawyers."
  • "Identify a niche that you find interesting and become as knowledgeable and visible as possible. Affirmatively seek out partners and assignments in that particular area, and write articles and speak about it so you will get noticed and develop a book of business."
  • "If a lawyer diligently applies him or herself to the client’s legitimate interests and eschews intellectual arrogance — i.e., never treats any matter routinely but, instead, gives each situation the total respect and fresh attention it deserves — reputation and success will take care of themselves. Of course, a little luck wouldn’t hurt."
  • "Organize your time and prioritize your activities; prepare carefully and thoroughly for every appearance and meeting; adopt an attitude of cheerfulness, optimism, flexibility and confidence without arrogance.
  • "A relentless dedication to the craft of lawyering is essential. There is a reason we call it the ‘practice’ of law."
  • "The best lawyers I know work hard, show respect to their opponents, concede points that should be conceded, and do not take themselves too seriously," Reich wrote. He added, "While confidence is key, a healthy dose of modesty goes a long way to achieving the necessary balance for professional excellence."
  • "You have to care enough to allow the case to take over your life.  And then, when that case ends, you have to allow the next one to do the same."
  • "Listen with your ears, eyes and all of your senses, to the words said, to the speaker’s body language, to what is not said, and to your inner self."
  • "Think about what your senses heard and saw. Evaluate and analyze before you speak and formulate a seasoned and measured response. Don’t just speak because you want to hear yourself or say what you think the listener wants to hear. Be true to yourself (and your audience) by relying on your education, experience, your common sense and your inner self. If you build a reputation for truth, reliability and credibility and act accordingly, you will be all that you can be."
  • "I believe the best lawyers are those who truly have a passion for what they do. This is still a profession, and not merely a job. Enthusiasm, caring and true investment in what we do is reflected in the outcome of our cases, in the respect of our colleagues and in appreciation from our clients."

 And of course we have heard the cynical observation that "a good lawyer knows the law, a great lawyer knows the judge, and a really, really great lawyer has an extremely close personal relationship with someone on the judge’s staff."  Sometimes I have felt like I was merely a good lawyer who had mastered the law and the facts, up against a "really, really great lawyer" with an "insider perspective."  Fortunately, I have encountered that extreme degree of "home cooking" very rarely in my career.  But when it happens, the facts, law, truth and ethics go out the window.