What does it take to stand out and be successful as a lawyer?

Law schools place a heavy emphasis on the technical aspects of being a lawyer. Critical thinking, analysis, drafting, etc. For many new lawyers this emphasis carries over with them as they begin to practice law. They remain exclusively focused on providing technically competent work – as they should. A high degree of technical competency is required is you want to be a good lawyer. Yet as the IAALS Foundations For Practice survey showed, only 23% of practicing lawyers believe new lawyers have sufficient skills to practice.

What many lawyers (new & old) struggle with is the more intangible aspects of being a good lawyer. Attributes that have less to do with the ability to analyze case law and more to do with character.

The survey data came to mind recently when I was (re)reading David Maister’s excellent book, Managing the Professional Service Firm. In particular, was a section devoted to the delivery of professional services. Maister uses the following example.

You have had your car repaired at a new local garage. A week or two later, your neighbor, curious about whether she should also use this new garage asks, “Did they fix the car?”

“I think so,” you reply. “It seems to be running smoothly, so I guess they did a good job.” Then your neighbor asks a second question:

“Did you get good service?”

What does this second question mean? Surely, fixing the car is the service, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Fixing the car is part of it, and an important part it is, but by itself it doesn’t constitute good service.”

The delivery of professional services, not just the technical quality, has a huge impact on how clients perceive the value of your work. But it’s something that is often not addressed by law schools (or many law firms).

Service is not just about the work you do, but also about how you treat people. Do you involve clients in the process, make them feel as though they are part of a team? Are you avoiding jargon and providing clear explanations of what work you are going to do and why? Are you providing options to the client and allowing them to choose? Are you asserting or persuading?

client service


Exceptional client service is an attitude. It’s not something you do once a day. It’s not a training program or a weekend seminar. It’s a hundred little actions you take everyday that impact the client. It’s an all encompassing force that has to be infused into every aspect of your work. And it’s not the sole responsibility of the person who has the client contact. Everyone has to understand that when they work, it impacts how clients perceive the value of the services provided by the firm.

One of the best ways to examine the level of customer service you provide is to think of situations in which you have been the client as mentioned above. What is important to you when you visit another professional service provider?  What are deal breakers that make you terminate the relationship? How do you measure quality client service when you receive it?

Now turn around and ask yourself if you are doing those things. If you’re not doing them, how valuable would it be if you were?

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