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A humble lawyer? Isn’t that an oxymoron? For many it is. For others, however, it is a powerful key to success in both the legal field and life. Far too often, people equate humility with being weak or poor. But a “humble lawyer” is not synonymous with a weak advocate. Indeed, the two concepts are at polar extremes. Who is a humble lawyer? In simplest terms, a humble lawyer is someone who is teachable. A humble lawyer is one who is “quick to observe.” He or she watches others and learns from both their successes and failures. A humble lawyer honestly looks at himself or herself, identifies his or her own weaknesses and then diligently seeks to overcome those faults. A humble lawyer is someone who is strong enough to forcefully advocate a client’s position while simultaneously having the strength to concede the weaknesses of the argument that is advocated. A humble lawyer is someone who is honest and strong enough to admit up front when a mistake has been made and then do all in his or her power to remedy the error. A humble lawyer is someone who has the personal strength to not let himself or herself lose control and say or do things in the heat of the moment that may ultimately impart a crucial advantage to opposing counsel. A humble lawyer continually tries to learn from all that he or she hears, sees, feels and experiences. Indeed, the humble lawyer is someone who willingly and voluntarily learns (in contrast to a lawyer who must be “beaten down” by the consequences of his or her poor decisions before he or she will learn). A humble lawyer consistently takes time to learn about nonlegal matters that directly affect the practice of law. This includes things such as improving one’s negotiation skills, learning about preservation and collection of electronic information, and developing a better understanding of a client’s industry. In short, a humble lawyer is a professional in every sense of the word. The advantages What are the advantages to being a humble lawyer? One of the biggest and most practical is the strategic advantage that one gains over one’s opponent � particularly an arrogant opponent. This, in turn, can result in significantly better settlements or verdicts. First, a humble lawyer approaches litigation or a negotiation knowing his or her strengths and weaknesses. By knowing one’s personal weaknesses, a person can then take measures to overcome those shortcomings or take steps to ensure that those weaknesses do not become one’s Achilles’ heel. Second, a humble lawyer will very early on carefully analyze the particular circumstances of his or her case or negotiation, quickly identify adverse facts, develop defenses to overcome inherent weaknesses and promptly provide the client with a candid assessment of the matter and clear guidance as to the different options the client may pursue. Third, a humble lawyer will very studiously consider his or her opponent. The humble lawyer will learn all he or she can about the opponent (including the opponent’s strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and so forth). From this, the lawyer will further develop and refine strategies so as to maximize the final outcome for the client. Finally, once a matter has been concluded, a humble lawyer will take time � even just a few minutes � to honestly critique his or her performance and to identify areas needed for future improvement. The humble lawyer will then work hard to improve on those points. Let me illustrate this concept. As a young attorney who had only been practicing a couple of years, I litigated a case against an insurance company. The litigation was contentious because my client refused to settle for the paltry sum offered by the insurer. At one point following a key deposition, opposing counsel angrily chewed me out about the problems I had in proving a key element of the case. Fortunately, I was humble enough to simply listen to his criticism and not argue with him. Since he was a seasoned litigator, his comments were highly instructive to me. What he perhaps didn’t realize was that, in his moment of anger, he imparted key insight as to what I needed to prove to ultimately prevail in the case. As a result of that discussion, I carefully studied the key element and took all necessary steps to prove that particular point. The resulting settlement that we finally reached was more favorable for the client. Since that time, I have often thought about the “advice” I was given in a moment of anger and I have repeatedly followed it in other cases. In doing so, I have become a much more effective advocate for my clients. In the final analysis, it pays to be humble. It is not always easy. But let’s face it � the best things in life almost always come with a price. And the reality of the matter is that the benefits of being humble are very much worth the effort. Michael D. Fielding is an associate in the bankruptcy, restructuring and creditors’ rights practice group of Kansas City, Mo.-based Blackwell Sanders.

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