It would have been lovely, but I am not sure the line ?my lawyer is great, really great? was ever used about me? I am absolutely certain it was never used about my legal abilities and I suspect that is probably true of most lawyers.
Can you, for example, imagine a client of yours giving you a call today?
?Hey Bill, thanks for the email, just been reading the suggested amendments to the I.T. contract. Great work, you old devil you?
What a super little warranty clause you snuck in there? a real cheeky little number; I just love the way that subjunctive ?must? plays with the dominant ?best endeavours?, absolutely fabulous. You know, of all the lawyers we could use, your standard precedent clauses are just the BEST!?
Let?s face it, it will probably never happen.
But what does happen and often (I hope) is that clients will say?
?Thank you for getting the report to me in time and making the points understandable?
Or ?thank you for keeping to the agreed budget?
Or ?thank you for just being there when I need someone on my side?
And all these sentiments go to the very essence of what being a great lawyer is about. It isn?t about the law you know, it?s about the relationships you develop and the value people attribute to the quality of the relationship.
Take this as a proposition ? the time you knew the most law was the week before your law finals examinations! Were you a great lawyer then?
And from that point onwards we all slowly let go of most of the legal knowledge we ever had. By the time we reach Partner or General Counsel, there would not be a hope in hell of us sitting and passing a law exam?Yet at that point we are at our most self-confident and probably at our best?
The critical point, and the point which underpins all our success, is that for the great majority of the time, for most of our clients and for most of the work we do, it is not our knowledge of the law that the client is valuing. Instead they are valuing accessibility, presentation, empathy, efficiency, timeliness, relevancy, passion, interest? and above all trust.
This is the essence of being a great lawyer. What is more, these are not characteristics that are the exclusive preserve of an elite few, with brains the size of planets, who practice in the legal stratosphere. In my judgement these are the characteristics that we can all live up to, every single day, with every single matter and for every single client.
A great deal of the work I do is helping lawyers fulfil their potential to become great lawyers and that means developing the rounded skills set that is essential to do this.
And it is not easy. We typically find, for example, that 80% of training budgets are spent on legal update training and only 20% is spent on other essential skills. What a waste of money?
It still surprises me how often people go on courses that simply fulfil the compulsory requirement to gather the quota of professional development hours they need, with no real thought to the usefulness of the programme.
It still surprises me how often people complain about the inconvenience of training and the cost of training, without ever thinking about the absolute requirement to invest effectively in their personal development.
It still surprises me how many delegates don’t turn up to events or leave them at the first opportunity because they want to miss the traffic or meet a friend or go shopping.
Maybe all of this is a reflection on the paucity of training content and quality ? but maybe it is because lawyers do not invest enough care and attention in thinking about what their training needs really are and how those needs should be met.
Just maybe there is also a subconscious realisation that legal update training by itself is much less necessary for most people and it therefore gets the treatment it deserves.
Perhaps lawyers should look more for skills training and, for a change, find the events that will give them the wherewithal for their clients to begin to think they also had a great lawyer working for them.
Okay, I know I am ranting?rant over!
It is truly important however to make sure that each one of us takes full responsibility for our personal development and training. It seems to me to be absolutely crucial that we do not just rely on our Training department or the Human Resources professionals to do this for us (however well intentioned they are). In the end it is our career not theirs.
And it is not just about formal training; having a great network to support us is just as important. We all need to have people we are close to whose opinions we value and trust. Some people shy away from the term ?mentoring?, but whatever we call it, we need to sense-check our feelings and our approach sometimes and mentoring, in my opinion, is something we should strive to institutionalise in all our businesses.
So this is what we must all do ? we must develop our internal and external networks; we must learn to seek out and to act on constructive feedback; we must seek opportunities to present and to write to hone our communication skills; we must develop our capacity to work efficiently, to manage meetings expertly, to keep our commitments and to articulate value?We must do all we can to align our expertise to the needs and interests of our clients.
This is not a wish-list, not some aspirational counsel to perfection; this is eminently attainable and within reach for every single one of us and it is also genuinely the stuff of being a great lawyer.