Law Students and Young Lawyers

Write About What You Don’t Know

We have all heard the expression, “write about what you know,” usually attributed to Mark Twain, who knew a thing or two about writing.

I don’t do that.

I often write about work/life balance and mental health in the legal profession, topics about which I know precious little, having never achieved them. Why people read my uneducated thoughts about these topics is beyond me. But here we are. I am writing about them yet again, and you are reading my musings about them, yet again.

Reflecting back on my long career, I am struck by the fact that I was able to achieve much of my success (measured traditionally by billings, client base, titles and income) precisely because of the imbalance in my life and my willingness to endure stress and sacrifice my health. I never managed to find ways to keep what I liked and leave the rest.

For those of you searching for traditional success, I recommend that you follow all of the rules that I set out below. On the other hand, if I could get a do-over, I might not follow anything past number ten:

  1. Put your clients first. And second. And third. Your interests come after that. There is one exception, which is getting paid. If you are going to do pro bono work, make sure that it is intentional.
  2. Be honest and ethical. Do not dance on the ethical line if your actions are not consistent with the spirit of the rules.
  3. Build teams and delegate. Train your Assistants, Clerks, Students, and Associates. Help them achieve their goals, instead of just having them help you get your work done.
  4. Exceed client expectations. Thankfully, that is easy to do in the legal profession because the bar is so low that you sometimes have to dig to find it. Just do what so many other lawyers do not do. Returning phone calls and replying to emails quickly are a good start.
  5. Agree with your client on a deadline for every task and meet or beat the deadline. If that becomes impossible, communicate with the client before the deadline passes.
  6. Admit to your clients when you don’t know the answer to a question and undertake to find the answer or put them in touch with the right person.
  7. Never refer your client to someone in your firm or a referral source who is second rate, and don’t ever try to sell the bullshit that everyone in your firm is great.
  8. Exit areas of practice which become commodities.
  9. Do not work for clients if you have to count your fingers after you shake hands with them. Slime has a way of rubbing off on you.  Dishonest clients will turn on you, every single time.
  10. Give your clients recommendations, not just options.
  11. Take on every piece of quality work that is offered to you and do whatever it takes to get it done.
  12. Work to every unreasonable deadline imposed by a client.
  13. Never let family time or a vacation get in the way of a client’s demands.

If you do all of that, you are well on the way to ‘success’ in the legal profession.

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