How to be the best lawyer in the World

I can see you reacting with incredulity.

“There is no such thing!”

But as Seth Godin says in his wonderful book The Dip:

“Anyone who is going to hire you, buy from you, recommend you, vote for you, or do what you want them to do is going to wonder if you’re the best choice. Best as in: best for them, right now, based on what they believe and what they know. And in the world as in: their world, the world they have access to.”

For me, the only way you can lay claim to this accolade is to find your passion. And then you have to have the self belief (not arrogance) to stretch, and reach for the top.

But rather than talking in the abstract or an ethereal way, have you set out “Your best in the World Strategy” yet?

Of course, you are unlikely to parade that along the corridors of power in your firm, but have you got a plan of campaign worked out to rise to the top – the top of your game?

There has been much debate about the regime underpinning CPD, but the truth is that if you love what you do, have the desire to be the best at what you do (as judged by your peer group) and are innately curious, then the idea of CPD seems rather whimsical. You are likely to be so far ahead of the game with your extra curricula activities that CPD is a mere blip in your learning, education, personal development and passion for EXCELLENCE.

If you are just beginning your career and are not sure where to start then it is important not to get lost in the weeds of doing it, doing it, doing it (see Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited). You have to have a clear vision of how the best lawyer in the World would practice.

  • His/her clients would trust them beyond reproach;
  • They had the best work;
  • They had the best clients;
  • New clients came to them through word of mouth only;
  • They were a respected member of the community;
  • They gave more than 10% of their time to charitable enterprises;
  • They had succeeded in developing people to be the most of anything;
  • Clients first was their mantra – pure and simple;
  • They say thank you at least 10 times a day;
  • Every project they work on is a WOW project (and everyone around them thinks so too);
  • They say sorry when things go wrong;
  • They dream;
  • They exist to serve, period;
  • They are humble and don’t think they are better than anyone else.

I recognise that the problem with this sort of checklist/mantra is that most people have a yoke that they carry round – normally something resembling the drone like experience of working in a factory, billing their heart out.

As I have said before billing is not the sine qua non of professional practice. Serving is. Whether that is servant leadership or developing bonds with your clients. When you have reached the zenith of client service, billing doesn’t take on the hue of reluctance (Lawyer: “The client isn’t going to like the size of this bill”) but you feel a certain degree of accomplishment. The reality is that the majority of clients will be only too pleased to pay your charges if you have offered more in value than you have requested in payment.

I know I keep exhorting a style of lawyering that may seem an anathema to many but all I know is that the market is not going to hang around whilst you decide if you can, incrementally, make changes to your practice or the wider firm ethos. I grew a number of practice areas and the driver that underpinned my intense desire to see things work was not to accept that the past dictated the future (“We have never acted for clients like that in the past”) but to have the belief that to be thought of alongside of better firms you have to want to be the best in the World (your World).

Please don’t go away and think that a listing in Chambers or another directory is going to cut it. I don’t remember many clients ever making much comment on that when I was talking to them about me and the firm I worked for. You would be better focusing on the ethics and messages from How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It will pay you in spades if you live and walk the principles laid out in that seminal work.

Go create your plan.

Adopt an entrepreneurial mindset.

And have a passion for something. Something that you deeply and honestly believe in.

And don’t give up until you have reached your goal. Remember perseverance and determination are omnipotent.

~ JS ~

6 responses to “How to be the best lawyer in the World”

  1. Mark Brandon says:

    Good piece, and I agree entirely with your point about passion, the vital – oft-neglected or pooh-poohed – ingredient for success.

    Where I would depart from you is your sideswipe at Chambers/Legal500 (and I admit some personal bias here, having edited the latter for a couple of years in 1996-97).

    Clients rarely, if ever, volunteer that they use directories, especially if, as is the case with many private practice lawyers, the lawyer they are talking to has displayed the customary dismissive, nay derisive, attitude to such publications (all the while feverishly consumed with their ‘own’ write-up…).

    A mention in a directory is, you are entirely correct, not sufficient. Any lawyer arrogant, lazy or presumptuous enough to simply rely on that for the purposes of personal marketing deserves exactly what they get.

    However, to dismiss them out of hand ignores their real value for clients, that of ‘signing-off’ their own decisions, if not for shortlisting law firms to interview in the first place. A name-check in the directories is guarantee of a certain amount of third party research, including among other clients, and as such stands as support to personal recommendation (which is clearly the ideal).

    You will never know the business you didn’t get, so every channel – directories included – may have validity. I’m not, you understand, advocating appearing in every little publication that comes along; as with conferences you need to pick and choose where you wish to focus your limited time and energy. Given those limited resources, focusing on the two ‘Blue Riband’ publications would seem like a wise move, in my humble opinion, but to reject them entirely is simply a mistake.

  2. Mark Brandon says:

    Good piece, and I agree entirely with your point about passion, the vital – oft-neglected or pooh-poohed – ingredient for success.

    Where I would depart from you is your sideswipe at Chambers/Legal500 (and I admit some personal bias here, having edited the latter for a couple of years in 1996-97).

    Clients rarely, if ever, volunteer that they use directories, especially if, as is the case with many private practice lawyers, the lawyer they are talking to has displayed the customary dismissive, nay derisive, attitude to such publications (all the while feverishly consumed with their ‘own’ write-up…).

    A mention in a directory is, you are entirely correct, not sufficient. Any lawyer arrogant, lazy or presumptuous enough to simply rely on that for the purposes of personal marketing deserves exactly what they get.

    However, to dismiss them out of hand ignores their real value for clients, that of ‘signing-off’ their own decisions, if not for shortlisting law firms to interview in the first place. A name-check in the directories is guarantee of a certain amount of third party research, including among other clients, and as such stands as support to personal recommendation (which is clearly the ideal).

    You will never know the business you didn’t get, so every channel – directories included – may have validity. I’m not, you understand, advocating appearing in every little publication that comes along; as with conferences you need to pick and choose where you wish to focus your limited time and energy. Given those limited resources, focusing on the two ‘Blue Riband’ publications would seem like a wise move, in my humble opinion, but to reject them entirely is simply a mistake.

  3. Miriam Said says:

    I would want my Lawyer to be the best Lawyer in the Universe and no gas giants either.

    Come on Lawyers, you can shine like a star, you just have to make it so.

  4. Miriam Said says:

    I would want my Lawyer to be the best Lawyer in the Universe and no gas giants either.

    Come on Lawyers, you can shine like a star, you just have to make it so.

  5. Steve says:

    Perhaps now, in this time of economic uncertainty, we (as lawyers) should be considering “mini-secondments” to those clients we feel would benefit from having us on-site, for say, a morning, afternoon or day? Nurturing those existing relationships and embracing the ‘giving’ culture so that when we do actually ask, the answer will be “yes!”?

  6. Steve says:

    Perhaps now, in this time of economic uncertainty, we (as lawyers) should be considering “mini-secondments” to those clients we feel would benefit from having us on-site, for say, a morning, afternoon or day? Nurturing those existing relationships and embracing the ‘giving’ culture so that when we do actually ask, the answer will be “yes!”?

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