What is a lawyer?
The Oxford dictionary defines a lawyer as: “A person who practices or studies law; an attorney or counselor.” That definition might be expanded to include: (1) licensure; (2) renders professional judgment; (3) adheres to a code of ethics; (4) represents clients; and (5) upholds the rule of law. One way to define a lawyer is to identify characteristics common to good ones. Top lawyers must be persuasive to prospective clients, peers, judges, and triers of fact. They are good storytellers. Lawyers are direct, concise, and get to the crux quickly. Top lawyers are equally adept at delivering good news and bad. They exude confidence but rarely lapse into cockiness. They utilize data and metrics only when they are relevant. They are not all things to all clients and understand the limits of their expertise. Lawyers meld law with fact and knowledge with experience. Their experience enables them to identify patterns, but they are not formulaic in problem solving.
Good lawyers understand clients and advance their objectives. Lawyers never stop learning. They help people solve problems and, in so doing, command respect and earn confidence. Lawyers understand that results are tied to variables they cannot always control and, so, offer no guarantees. They are assiduous in their preparation and adept at improvisation. Lawyers know that legal practice is iterative and, so, must observe, analyze, and react. Client confidence is achieved when the lawyer demonstrates communication skills, competence, calm, candor, and an ability to collaborate with clients, professional colleagues, staff, and adversaries. Good lawyers know that law – especially litigation – is not a zero-sum game. Zealous advocacy is accompanied by an ability to “collaborate” with opposing counsel. This is why the vast majority of litigated cases are settled and why so many deals are closed.