I have been following a lot of the thought leaders in the legal industry lately. People talk about lawyers needing to be personable, to have social skills, to be innovative, etc. Having been a lawyer (a very unhappy one) myself, and having worked with in-house and outside counsels all these years from the business side, what do people really want?
Let’s never lose sight of the fundamentals. People seek advice from lawyers because they lack the knowledge themselves and need professional advice. That’s why they pay top dollars to get lawyers. If a lawyer does not possess the right level and depth of knowledge that’s up to date in their field of expertise, that’s a nonstarter. Nothing will make a client lose faith faster than when a lawyer appears unsure of the subject matter expertise.
2. A somewhat generalist in law.
The legal practice, in today’s world, cannot be isolated. A lawyer that knows a specific area of law very well, but lacks any knowledge or awareness outside of that, can also be very frustrating to the client. For a business lawyer, for example, general knowledge about security, IP, warranty, buy and sell terms (payment terms, inco terms) is also extremely helpful and is much appreciated by clients. Yes, we can all get expert opinions for every single area of law, but do we want to, or can we afford to? Not to say you have to be an expert in all these areas, but a general level of understanding and the ability to spot issues and to consult the right experts is key.
3. Understanding the client’s business.
I can’t tell you how helpful a lawyer is for software engineers if they understand source code and API. The same goes for a lawyer for automotive if they can comprehend what’s a radar and why certain specifications matter. Similar to my last point above, we are not asking you to become a software engineer or a vehicle engineer. But understand the basic setup so that you can ask the right questions. For the areas you don’t understand, ask away. Engineers love to explain to their lawyers their technical details.
4. Adept in technology.
In today’s startup world, if you don’t use Google Docs, Google Slides, Jira, and Slack, we seem to have a problem. Of course, we lawyers love our Word documents, redlines, and want to control them. But we’ve got to learn to innovate and change with the rest of the world. What about a CLM system? Better even, what about exchanging comments with opposing counsel through some sort of online system, so we can get rid of all those back and forth emails and Word Document versions? The legal practice is constantly changing like the rest of the tech world. If you don’t catch up, you will be left behind.
5. Business mind set.
There are two types of lawyers, the deal makers, and the deal-breakers. The first type has the business objective in mind, ask the right questions, help the client to calibrate the risk, and get the deals done. The second type gets hung up on minor details, argues about things that don’t matter, and ultimately upsets the client and the other side. Let’s remember that we are business lawyers. We are not litigators. Our goal is not to win a fight, but to enable and make things happen.
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