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Whether you graduate at the top of your class or the bottom, everyone has the potential to be a GREAT attorney.
Passing the Bar alone does not a “good” lawyer make. It is a necessary requirement but by no means the only—much less infallible—gauge of how one can use one’s legal education, skills and training to serve clients, deal with the bench and the bar, and help change society for the better.
After posing a question to seasoned, professionals in the legal industry – What advice would you offer recent graduates about how to be the best lawyer money cannot buy – we received an outpouring of their comments and suggestions.
A New Beginning…
This is a good reminder to new lawyers that passing the bar is the starting point, not the end...now they have a responsibility to a professional and part of being a legal professional should always include acting with honesty and integrity. I agree with all of the comments above that you can be an excellent attorney and advocate for your client while still being civil, courteous, and possibly even friendly towards opposing counsel. In fact, I have found that often get even better results for my client when this type of interaction is had with opposing counsel.
Some brief advice: try not to be too overwhelmed by the learning curve as a newly minted attorney; try your best to balance the inevitable demands with well-earned enjoyment of your new professional life (and the benefits that inure to it).
Celebrate Each Success…
Each success is short lived. There are always clients whose needs are waiting. That being said, civility has many roles -- from being a good person, to making new friends and to working with an adversary who most likely will one day be representing a related party. NEVER BURN BRIDGES.
Celebrate each success. This profession, especially the big law arena, focuses on the negatives and where people made mistakes. It is important to congratulate yourself on your successes and build your confidence. That being said, celebrating success does not mean forgetting your other clients or thinking that you have “outgrown” clients that do not meet your higher skill. You have to treat all people with respect and endeavor to give them the best (non) legal advice that you can offer.
There is always time to take a breath and enjoy each success, but because lawyers are selling a service, we must stay competitive, informed, and in-demand. There will never be an end to that to-do list.
Communication: A key to helping you succeed
Always remember: if it isn't written down, then it never happened. If you have a phone call, make a note of any type about it. If you have a discussion with someone (another lawyer, your assistant), follow up with an email to confirm the details. It might not matter for 99% of the time, but you will be thankful in that 1% that you have a written history of events.
Two things that I have learned in recent years that I wish I had known better when I started my career: Return all phone calls and e-mails promptly, even if it is only to acknowledge receipt, and to set a timeframe for a substantive response. And you can never network too much.
Your words and actions are now observed ALWAYS, even when you think it doesn't matter.
Know that as a new attorney you do not know much of anything yet about the practice of law. Be nice to paralegals, legal assistants, court clerks, bailiffs, court reporters, and everyone who has been around much longer than you have...they have a wealth of information to share! Acknowledge those whose hard work every day helps you to accomplish great things for your clients, no matter who they are.
The value of hard work
As a new lawyer, you should take every project you work on seriously, and make sure it is the best work you can do. It should be timely and complete. Make sure you like the area of law you are practicing in because if you do not like it, it will be hard to transfer to another area of law later in life. Do not take a job in an area you do not like just to have a job. People often get stuck in those fields and have a difficult time escaping.
My whole job is being appointed to represent indigent defendants. Sometimes it does seem weird to be on a first name basis with people accused of murder, rape, robbery, etc., but everyone deserves to have someone aggressively protecting their rights. Believe it or not, they didn't all do it. The fact that you don't have money shouldn't negatively impact the protection of your constitutional rights.
Respect: A true mark of success
Remember, the practice of law is a profession. While it is a “different” world now that we live in but I would like to hold fast to doing the right thing and showing respectful for profession. I say adapt to the new technology and way of doing business but don't forget respect and professionalism. That is the mark of true success.
You can be a zealous advocate for your client and still be respectful to opposing counsel.
Your professional integrity
Passing the bar is a huge accomplishment, but after that it really is a question of integrity. I guess the MPRE is the closest thing to an integrity component of licensure, but at the end of the day it's either in there (and retained) or it's not. There is so much power in this profession, and it can be wielded for good or for evil. Like Superman.
I think that integrity is the most important quality. Professionalism and courtesy and respect are among the most important qualities. And most significantly, perhaps, is the fact that the most important work you will ever do may not be the work for which you are compensated in dollars.
The potential to be great
Whether you graduate at the top of your class or the bottom, everyone has the potential to be a GREAT attorney. Simple things like returning phone calls and emails, along with communicating with your client and the other side go a long way to making you an effective attorney and one that is respected.
You can be a good lawyer or a great one. Never stop learning by paying attention to others around you. They will teach you what to do and more importantly, what not to do.
"The choice is yours to make: will you be the best lawyer that money cannot buy, or the best lawyer that money can buy?" How about: "Will you be the best lawyer you can be?"
Always remember that if you don’t pass the bar, know that it is only a measure of how well you can take a test, not necessarily how well you will practice law. Follow your own path, or you'll be miserable and regret ever deciding on
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