The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers Uncategorized

Who Is The Smartest Lawyer in the Room (or on Zoom)?

I am, of course. But I don’t have to make sure that everyone else knows it. Whenever I forget this simple truth, the client ends up paying for it somehow.

Since I am the smartest lawyer in the room, there is only one perfect way to draft a document: my way, and when I get the opportunity to draft a document, I do it in that perfect way.  

However, much of the time I am called upon to review another lawyer’s drafting, which can always be improved. The question which a lawyer must consider in these circumstances, is whether there is value to the client in improving the drafting. I have seen lawyers who just cannot help themselves. The document must be changed to mirror that lawyer’s view of perfection.  Everything from changing the formatting and the font to the wording of the boilerplate must be improved. And the client must pay for it.  If it is not all changed, how will everyone know just how smart that lawyer is?  From my perspective, the drafting only has to be changed if it improves the client’s position, and that is all that the client should be asked to pay for.

The standard share purchase agreement has a clause about intellectual property that goes on for most of a page and a clause about environmental liability that goes on for at least 2 pages. The client should be more than happy to pay for the lawyer to negotiate those provisions for several hours – if intellectual property and environmental issues are important to the deal. A good lawyer does not spend much time on these clauses if these issues are not important to the deal – even if it means that the drafting will not live up to his or her personal standards or much worse – even if it will not be crystal clear to the other side’s counsel who is the smartest lawyer in the room.

The bottom line is simple: A great lawyer has an ego which is in check and has no need to prove how smart they are. The poor client must figure out how to find a lawyer who is justifiably confident, without having a costly need for approval from the other side. 

2 replies on “Who Is The Smartest Lawyer in the Room (or on Zoom)?”

The same goes for when supervising partners or associates provide comments and feedback on work done by (more junior) associates and articling students. Quite frequently what happens is that advice and contract wording is completely rewritten in the style of the supervising lawyer even though a lot of the original wording was probably fine. Quite aside from the time cost of this behaviour, it can also stifle both diversity of thought within the firm and the development of junior lawyers as they never learn to develop their own “voice” but instead (if they are not careful) are moulded into carbon copies of their seniors.

Tell me what you think of this: I told my associate that she had to learn to do things my way, but once she could do that she could use whatever style she wanted to. My thought was that she would be exposed to what I thought the “right” way of doing things was, but then she could use her own judgment to decide whether she had a better way of doing things. It worked for us.

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