The Exceptional Lawyer

Three Qualities of Exceptional Lawyers

Enthusiasm, generosity, and courage are the three characteristics that distinguish exceptional lawyers.  When using these terms to define exceptional lawyers, I define each narrowly.

1.  Enthusiasm

“Nothing great,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “is created without enthusiasm.”  That includes legal representation.  Enthusiasm leads to a level of devotion, loyalty, caring and focus greater than that which comes from only a sense of duty.  Exceptional lawyers are more than just responsible.  They are enthusiastic.

The enthusiasm of exceptional lawyers is defined by two features:  (1) they love their activity and (2) they love their role.  Loving their activity means that exceptional lawyers becomes absorbed in their work.  When they are working, it flows.  They have an experience of engagement that takes them out of time.  And, when they pop their heads up for a breath of air, they think, “Yeah, I like doing this.”

Loving their role means that when they step way back and look at the contribution that they are making (to their family, their firm, their clients, their world, themselves, whom or whatever is important to them), they are pleased.  This is most easily spotted in the joy they take in going into the office on a Wednesday morning.

Look around you at the lawyers with whom you work.  Ask yourself, “Who exemplifies these two qualities of enthusiasm?”  You will find that they tend to be the exceptional attorneys.

2.  Generosity

The generosity of exceptional lawyers has to do with exchange of value.  Lawyers are service professionals.  We must be judged by the value we bring.  Generosity means that we bring our clients much greater value than the money, trust, and time we receive in exchange.

This starts with great legal skills.  All good lawyers consistently and effectively apply a considerable content and procedural understanding.

For exceptional attorneys, legal skills go beyond the application of  content and procedure.  Exceptional lawyers offer perspective, strategy, options, opportunity, education, validation, advice, challenge, enthusiasm, feedback, caring, and solutions.  Some aspects of these deliverables will be common to all exceptional lawyers, for example, civility.  Some of the value created by exceptional lawyers requires that they leverage their unique natural propensities to the maximum extent.  This is very individualized.  A friendly lawyer, who gets along with her colleagues, likely has great leadership potential.  When she develops and applies her leadership skills to support the firm or her team in extraordinary ways, when she readily gives of her special talents (not just her legal skills) much more than is necessary or expected, she demonstrates the generosity that defines an exceptional lawyer.

3.  Courage

The courage of exceptional lawyers has to do with fearlessly challenging themselves.  Exceptional attorneys have the courage to acknowledge their bad habits and other shortcomings and figure out how to overcome them.  They make it a habit to take themselves to their steepest learning curve.

To continuously increase their value, what they can give, exceptional attorneys seek out where they can grow.  This requires courage and a sense of adventure.  All good attorneys stay current in their area of expertise and continue to learn from their experience.  That’s important, but exceptional attorneys go further.  Once they reach mid-career, they acknowledge that staying current is not where they have the most room for enhancing their contribution.  This means seeking out where lies the most opportunity for improvement (the steepest learning curve) and takes that on.


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