…The essence of becoming a great lawyer is realising that it isn’t about you.

This is hard…after all, after the law degree, law school, training, qualifying, trying to make your way, putting up with partners behaving like four-year-olds and working your socks off…of course it should be about you!

…But it isn’t.

It’s not really even about what you know. Obviously you have to know a great deal about the law; your technical skill set is precious and important and is your ticket to play; but it doesn’t make you a great lawyer.

It’s not about who you work for either…having a successful letterhead to write on is an advantage, might open doors, might do some of the early hard yards in helping you build your personal credentials – but at the end of the day it is just a letterhead and does not make you a great lawyer.

So what does?

Being a great lawyer is about three things:

  1. Accepting unequivocally that it is not about you
  2. Recognising that for all the law you know and the brilliance of your mind, what you know is just a ticket to ride, and finally and crucially…
  3. To be able to work inside the client’s head

And it is this third element that I would like to focus on; it is the key to everything.

Clients come in all shapes and sizes – huge multi-national telecos, government backed institutions, the banks, fleet-of-foot technology companies etc; and the first mistake a lawyer makes is to think they act for these companies – they do not. They act for individuals within the companies.

Professionally, of course, the lawyer acts in the best interests of the company, but in reality the challenge is not working with an “entity”, but to work with real people within the entity who have personal targets, hopes, ambitions, fears…People, as well, who have different levels of understanding, different tolerances to risk and who, frankly, have good days and bad days.

The most important skill for any lawyer with aspirations to be a great lawyer therefore is the ability to listen.

It sounds too easy, but therein probably lays the trap. It sounds easy, but it is VERY hard to do well.