Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Professionalism Part II

Remember:  you are your reputation.  Even in big cities, the legal world is a small world.  I've said it before here, and I will probably say it again:  people know people.  You never know who is friends with who, whose husband or wife works at X company, etc.  There are ways to be a zealous advocate for your client yet a fair and decent attorney.  HP has been on the other side of many attorneys over the years.  If you surveyed those people, HP would hope they would say that HP is a diligent, smart, tough but fair counsel.  These are the kind of attorneys people respect.  HP has received client referrals from former colleagues, former adversaries, and former clients.  Keep in mind that whatever matter you might be working on, whether it is "your" client, or if you are a first year associate working on a larger matter, there are implications down the road. Of course, implications for the client.  But also implications for you:  how you perform is assessed by your supervising attorney, your clients, people your clients may tell (their colleagues, friends, family members in business etc.).  Someone said recently to HP's friend "I'm referring you this matter because I know you will do a stellar job and you will make me look good to my client (who was the referral)."  This is a huge compliment.  It is based on one lawyer's high respect for the legal skills and client handling of another lawyer.  Acting as a jerk, being less than careful, logging tons of excess time will not get you to this point. Remember, law is more like cross country than track. Yes, we occasionally sprint but we need to keep a swift, even pace to finish the race.  


-- check and double check your work.

-- return calls and emails promptly.

-- if you say you are sending a document, order, etc (yes, even to the other side), send it promptly.  Follow through on your promises.  If there are delays, let the recipient know why and when you will deliver.

-- don't overpromise.

-- if you don't know the answer, don't fib.  It is ok to say you have to look into something.

-- yelling, cursing, and bullying don't usually help. In fact, if someone becomes obnoxious to me, I immediately go in my "you are getting nothing" mode.  

-- keep clients and others informed of developments.  

-- if you change documents, send redlines.  Don't just say "we had a few minor changes."  If you want us to sign off on something or pass along to our client, you got to show us what you did.  We don't like surprises or sneak changes and it makes you look untrustworthy.  Remember, even adversaries today can be clients tomorrow (job changes, referrals).

-- in the end, it is your reputation -- not your partners, not some other associate -- yours.  Over the years, I have adopted the good traits of some fine mentors while recognizing that other traits were either not my style or not good for my reputation.  Own your reputation. Remember -- and I know HP said this before -- no one is looking out for your career but you.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I've heard several senior associates and partners comment that the first few years at a big law firm are difficult mainly because the junior associates are lost in a large maze, unsure of protocol, career direction, and the most efficient work habits. I am sure some of this is remedied simply through time and experience, but there must be other remedies as well. Like law school, some people succeed more than others and this generally translates into greater quality of life. Through your years of experience, what can a junior associate do (other than your posts on professionalism) to help ease the transition into big law?

Someone recently passed along that I should reach out to those around me...she commented most junior associates are too afraid to.