Steve established a number of guidelines for his practice of law. Most of them are pretty standard and common sense, but some are a little offbeat by many accounts (at least for a law firm).
- Although understanding that the practice of law is a serious business, my first rule is to make sure I don’t take myself too seriously – life is too short (and I am now old enough to understand why this is important). I have come to understand that being happy makes one a better person and, as a result, a better and more effective attorney. If you doubt this, think about the decisions you made when you were unhappy – better or worse than when you were in a good spot? In addition, I know that my law degree does not make me special or somehow better than those seeking my counsel. The best compliment I received was, “I would not have guessed you were an attorney – you are way too nice” – and I get that comment more and more.
- Listen first. Listen to what my clients want, listen to what the other side is saying (and sometimes more importantly, what they aren’t saying), listen to other stakeholders. Only after listening can an effective plan of action be developed. Too often, attorneys jump right into “problem solving” mode without thoroughly understanding the issue – better solutions are available with more information, with more understanding.
- Be flexible and creative. Often I have to step back from a problem and tell myself to “stop thinking like a lawyer” to see what I am overlooking, identify my blind spots. Too often, attorneys look at an issue and see obstacles – because that is what we are trained to do. But a good attorney doesn’t stop when an obstacle presents itself, rather, the attorney figures outs a solution, or at least provides options.
- Ego and self-interest are to be set aside. I like to win – but, sometimes, it isn’t in my client’s best interests to win every argument. I don’t want my desire to win to cause me to lose sight of the ultimate goal – which is to help you and your business take the next step, manage risk, solve problems. Sometimes I have to fall on the sword or abandon a legal strategy because it doesn’t fit into the business strategy even though it pains me to do so – but my sense of accomplishment is not the goal, the goal is to help you. I ask myself whether my approach works for my clients, does it advance their goals and is it worth their investment – my client’s success is my success, not winning every argument.
- Give it everything you’ve got and do your best – that comes from my parents (thanks Mom and Dad).
- Be nice. Law involves disputes with serious stakes. However, I have consistently seen better resolutions when the attorneys (and all other parties) involved commit to following the Golden Rule. I commit to being respectful, giving the benefit of the doubt, and being reasonable. Of course, I am a steadfast advocate of my clients and fight to protect their interests, but I do it in a respectful manner.
Not for Everyone
My approach is not for everyone. I have found that my approach to the practice usually works best with business owners who have their money on the line, who have built a business, who understand that many people rely on them for their livelihood and take that responsibility seriously. They look at legal advice as an investment, not an expense. They understand their limitations and turn to people with greater expertise when necessary, understanding that such experience in another person does not diminish the owner’s value to the business, but rather allows them to do a better job. I work best when I share values with a person – honesty, integrity, work ethic, tolerance, respect for others, empathy, responsibility, loyalty – it just makes it easier and more intuitive.
I get almost all of my business from personal referrals from current and past clients and my extensive network of contacts. Most of my clients have been working with me for years.
My clients believe that legal advice is an investment, not an expense. Our relationship is an investment in the success of their business rather than a line item or an account payable – and our mutual investment leads to benefits for both of us.
One of the best things I have found is that although I am a corporate lawyer, most of my clients turn to me for advice on matters outside of corporate law – they want my input on their other legal needs, on their business strategy and, sometimes, matters of a more personal nature. I used to be a bit flummoxed by this, until I realized that it meant I had shown my ability to be a trusted advisor to my clients and it extended beyond merely corporate legal issues. As a result of the trust that is placed in me, I take this responsibility very seriously.
I realize that “I am not all that” – and that realization is reflected in my practice. I don’t often wear a suit to the office, I have owned my car for 10 years now, I don’t feel that I am entitled to special treatment because I have a law degree. I tip well because I understand the importance of customer service and appreciate that I depend on those around me to do jobs that I would have difficulty doing. I don’t always “fit in” the business world and although I know I can act like I do, I find that I choose not to do so more and more because it isn’t me.
So, although I may be considered a bit eccentric and non-conformist, maybe that is what the legal business needs, or at least maybe it is a better approach for you. Maybe it is time to think about a different approach to meeting your legal needs. And, to be honest, if you took the time to read this portion of my website, maybe it would be a good fit.