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What Makes a Great Lawyer – Answered by Scheef & Stone’s Jane Taber

Jane C. TaberThe firm recently celebrated having 13 lawyers named as D Magazine Best Lawyers by asking its attorneys what makes a great lawyer. Jane Taber provided the following insight, and we couldn’t have said it any better. Enjoy!

The nation is chock full of very good lawyers. Every year hundreds of lawyers graduate from the top of their classes, win prestigious awards for exemplary service, and provide superb legal representation resulting in tremendous results for their clients. As a profession, lawyers are intelligent and aren’t afraid to put in the necessary time and effort of lifelong learning to fine-tune their legal skills and gain experience. They have an uncanny ability to analyze information, strategically plan and implement a pathway for the best outcomes for their clients, and efficiently and persuasively write or present orally their clients’ position. So how does a lawyer become great and rise above her colleagues when she is surrounded every single day with good lawyers? A few characteristics make the transformation of a good lawyer into a great lawyer.

First is compassion. When a lawyer authentically and genuinely wants to help resolve a problem this is manifested as compassion. After all, isn’t that why our clients come to us in the first place—to solve their problem or avoid a future problem? This requires focusing on how others feel and understanding and accepting their perspective even if you don’t agree with it. Without compassion you can’t put yourself into your client’s shoes and fully comprehend the problems they face. Without compassion you can’t understand opposing counsel’s or the trier of facts perspectives. However, with compassion, and understanding the positions of all parties involved, you can anticipate the next steps of each party and take pre-emptive measures that are in the best interest of your client. You simply can’t provide the best solutions without compassion.

Secondly is assertiveness, which is different from aggressiveness. Assertive lawyers effectively state their opinions and make themselves heard in a professional manner, respectful of others. Aggressive lawyers attack and ignore others’ opinions, insisting their opinion is right and any other opinions are wrong. Much like lawyers without compassion, overly aggressive lawyers cannot possibly understand another’s position if it isn’t aligned with theirs, making them ineffective at understanding the client’s problem and incapable of providing an effective solution. Causing irreparable damage are overly aggressive lawyers, whose lack of respect for others undermines trust and leads to an uncooperative environment with mutual resolution or agreement often impossible.

Lastly is creativity. The number of different legal scenarios a lawyer is faced with over her career is innumerable. All clients, fact patterns, and issues differ. A solution for one client likely won’t work for another due to each client’s uniqueness. A great lawyer must be able to assess her client’s situation from all angles, understand what the client wants—and what her adversary wants, weigh all options, and muster up all the creativity she can to craft the perfect solution for the client that will also be accepted by an adversary. This requires coming to the table with compassion, listening intending to hear all persons at the table, and being assertive but not to the point of aggressive in advocating for a workable solution.

Yes, there are plenty of good lawyers that will do a fine job for most clients, but a great lawyer rises above a good one with her secret weapons of compassion, assertiveness, and creativity.