As a lawyer, you want to take the extra steps necessary to stand out from the crowd and be successful. Successful lawyers often have a number of things in common--including many elements that make them lower risks for professional liability insurance. The most successful lawyers have these traits in common.
1. Do: Use Engagement Letters
Engagement letters set forth the terms that both parties are expected to abide by in a legal arrangement. The engagement letter helps detail what your responsibilities will be with a client, including the services you're willing to provide, and the terms the client is expected to abide by. An engagement letter does not bind the two parties the way a contract does, but it can be used as a legal document if you later have problems with a client.
2. Do: Use Non-Engagement Letters
Engagement letters are important because they establish your plans to take on a specific client and what your interactions will look like. Non-engagement letters, on the other hand, let a client know that you're not planning to work with them and terminate any expectations the client might have. These letters can prevent a client you chose not to work with from coming back and creating problems for you later.
3. Do: Exercise Regular Communication
As a lawyer, you often hold your clients' freedom, livelihood, or future in your hands. As such, you need to communicate with them on a regular basis, letting them know how their cases and claims are coming and what they can expect in the immediate future. Failure to communicate can leave a client stunned when things don't go their way, while regular communication lets a client know exactly what to expect, including potential expenses.
4. Do: Have a Strong Case Management System
You don't want to run the risk that your clients will fall through the cracks. As such, having a solid case management system is critical for your law firm. You want a case management system that will flag important dates, keep track of all of your clients, and help manage your contracts. Not only that, you should take careful notes about every aspect of a client's case and include those notes in your system.
5. Do: Provide Assertive Defense
As a lawyer, you need to work assertively--but not aggressively--as you represent your clients. You don't want to present an aggressive front, which could lead to problems, but you do want to assertively state your case and your expectations. You may also need to be assertive with your clients to encourage them to share the details of their lives and their cases or claims with you.
6. Don't: Take On Every Client
Effective attorneys don't just jump in with both feet every time a client approaches them. Instead, they have a careful approach to choosing clients--one that allows them to establish the validity of a case or claim. Even criminal lawyers may choose to pass on some cases, and with good reason. If a client has a history of being turned down by other attorneys, you might want to follow their lead: chances are, there's a good reason why others have chosen not to work with them.
7. Do: Have a Good Sense of Judgment
Sometimes, taking on a client or choosing to pass on a particular case is little more than a judgment call. You can't always guarantee how a case will turn out, including how much time and effort it will take. Over time, however, the best lawyers develop a solid sense of judgment. You won't always make the best possible call in every situation, but lawyers with good judgment do tend to make the better call more often than those that don't.
8. Don't: Get Into Conflicts of Interest
You wouldn't want to represent clients on both sides of a case, nor do you want to get involved in cases in which you have a personal interest--especially on the other side. You also do not want to get involved in a business relationship with a client, which could change your perspective on their case. Instead, keep things professional in your relationship with the client--and avoid entering into any other type of relationship, including a business one, until the case is done.
9. Do: Try to Avoid Fee Suits
Fee suits can turn messy in a hurry. When possible, do your best to avoid fee suits: screen clients carefully before taking on the contract to avoid a client who might not have the ability to pay, make sure clients know what fees they should expect from you, and have an agreement in writing that clearly states when clients need to take care of paying.
10. Don't: Take on Cases Outside Your Specialty
Most attorneys practice a highly specific area of law. When possible, avoid taking on cases outside your specialty. You don't want to take on cases you have little experience with, which could open you up to higher levels of risk.
11. Do: Work Well with Varied People
As an attorney, you will deal with a wide range of people and a wide range of personal characteristics on a daily basis. The best attorneys can easily identify and connect with different types of people, including those from vastly different walks of life than their own.
12. Do: Have Great Qualifications
When it comes to your qualifications, it's not all about where you went to school or how well you did. Experience and education pay a significant role in determining your qualifications. The best lawyers have a willingness to continue studying the law even as it changes.
13. Don't: Give Up Easily
Great lawyers are a study in perseverance: they stick with it and don't give up, even when things look grim. That may mean taking a creative approach or finding a new way to go at a problem--and the best lawyers are willing to go that extra mile.
As a lawyer, you want to be sure that you're giving your clients your best. Whether you're joining your first practice or looking for ways to improve your skills, these 13 qualities can help you excel in your field.