Training excellent lawyers is hard. In PBI’s first 50th Anniversary virtual Town Hall this past March, and our workshop at the PBA Annual Meeting, we identified five traits that outstanding lawyers share:
- Knowledge of the substantive law
- Competency to perform the important tasks such as drafting a lease
- Lawyering skills, such as negotiations and client counseling
- Problem solving, particularly strategic thinking about a client’s needs
- Personal characteristics such as resilience, integrity and tenacious self-motivation
Some of the training to improve these traits is straight-forward and common. Some, however, is difficult and rare whether in law school, law firms or CLE.
For example, an excellent lawyer is self-motivated, showing great persistence. Whether the lawyer is researching, counseling a client or preparing for trial, the work takes time and effort. The mediocre lawyer cannot muster the willpower to devote the energy it takes to excel. Can tenacity be learned? Or is it something inherited in your genes or prefrontal cortex?
In the recent book The Good Lawyer, the authors assert “Self-control, along with intelligence, turns out to be one of the two best predictors of a successful career…” They also assert that it can be improved, or learned. Here are some tips.
First, set clear, achievable goals. The authors quote Benjamin Franklin, “I judg’d it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time.”
Second, when your willpower is depleted, give yourself a pep talk, consciously reminding yourself that your immediate task is worthwhile and important.
Third, do not discount the motivation of fear. If you find it difficult to muster the crucial energy needed to complete this brief, or this contract, or this negotiation, consider: what will your client think of you, will your reputation suffer with your opposing counsel, will a judge rebuke you in court?
Finally, the authors of The Good Lawyer assert that willpower is contagious. They conclude, “…if the lawyers you spend your time with share your goals or have the sort of work habits you admire, you are more likely to develop good work habits and are more likely to achieve your goals.”
In our October 13 webcast, The Future of Legal Education, Part II, we will explore how best to train lawyers in all of these attributes, from law school through retirement.
Every lawyer gets better from experience. We will hear from an international panel including practitioners, a state Supreme Court justice, CLE professionals, a law school Dean and clinical professor, and a noted law firm business consultant how our profession can create better training models to make lawyers better, faster.