Kids are cute. I don’t have any of my own as yet, but I can’t help noticing that they have this wonderful propensity to offer us a window into the ways that many people think.
A few weeks ago I had the immense joy of watching Greg Welden’s youngest daughter in action as she played a wonderful game of pretend. She was chatting away to herself (as kids do) and scribbling nonsense on a piece of paper, stamping it, before turning the page over only to repeat the process on the next sheet. When I asked her about the game she was playing she replied, “I’m being a lawyer like Daddy.”
This story goes a small way to illustrate the way in which many people understand the work that lawyers do. You see ‘apparently’ we sit behind oversized mahogany desks nodding our heads, offering advice while occasionally witnessing and rubber stamping documents. Of course when we are not doing this we are striding across the court room bellowing loudly “I object!”
However, I don’t think I have ever uttered the words “I object!” in a court room, and far be it from me to burst the bubble, but the real practice of Law is a very long way from LA Law. At any rate, it got me thinking about the actual work that lawyers do, and, more importantly the skills that every lawyer needs. I’ve managed to narrow them down to ten:
- Be a workaholic. Is that even a skill? In any case Law is a tough gig and working 9-5 Monday to Friday won’t get you very far. Any lawyer worth his or her grain of salt is working every day, is taking work home and spends every waking moment (seriously) finding solutions to dilemmas. It is exhausting. It is intense and it is not a job that you ever clock off from….okay, perhaps when you die.
- The ability to read with lightning speed. Lawyers like paper. In fact we love it, especially the kind with really, really, tiny print. It follows then that being a great lawyer means becoming a speed reader in a way that puts the super into the human.
- Become a Crystal Ball Gazer. No, I’m not talking about reading tea leaves and tarot cards in between trials. I mean having foresight. The ability to see 3 or 4 steps into the future and understanding that what choice you make now can have a knock on effect ten steps down the road.
- Have the research skills of a Librarian and the Curiosity of a 5 Year old. Believe it or not, really awesome lawyers don’t always know all the answers. Quite often what makes a lawyer brilliant is that innate ability to find answers to questions that they devise. This also requires an intrinsically driven motivation to want to discover the answers (hence the 5 year old analogy).
- Juggle with the finesse of a Circus Performer. Of course every client likes to think that the lawyer they have employed knows their case intimately. A great lawyer makes their clients feel as though their matter is the only one in their caseload. We wish practicing Law was like an episode of Suits. Alas, we have multiple files firing at any one time. It is all about juggling the files effectively, having an awesome memory and knowing immediately what needs to be done to a file at very short notice.
- Be Organised. Good lawyers always bring the blue pens. We never leave this to the client as it is guaranteed to end badly (ie it means more work in the long run). If you find yourself lacking in organisational skills then Law is probably not the career for you.
- Think on your feet. Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Sometimes events evolve quicker than you expected. Quite often a client lands on your doorstep without any notice and needs help immediately. Great lawyers are flexible, adaptable and think quickly on their feet in those moments when it really matters.
- Awesome lawyers let the client do most of the talking. They don’t just listen attentively but they filter through all the stuff that the client thinks is important (but isn’t) to get to the heart of the matter.
- When they do speak they ask the right questions. Not much to add to this. Speak sparse but make it count.
- Empathise like a Saint. Being a lawyer usually means dealing with people. Sometimes your clients are elderly and infirm. Sometimes your clients are grieving. Almost always, legal clients feel overwhelmed by what is in front of them. The job of the lawyer is to take that all on and make it look easy. A great lawyer does this with empathy, treating every client who walks through the door with the same kindness they would show a favourite Aunt. And it helps to know how to make a good cup of tea.
As you can see, the reality of Law is a very long way from the mythical glamour perpetuated in a 45 minute episode of Boston Legal. In fact, real Law is far homelier with considerably less emphasis placed upon designer suiting and the drinking of imported whiskies. This aside, I still love Law. I love the challenge of this work, but more than that, I love the opportunity it gives me to help real people through their very real life challenges.