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Last month, a reader asked about attributes shared by many successful lawyers and how they could be applied to make 2008 a banner year. The January article provided two recommendations: the benefits of sharpening one’s speech and how to present oneself in a good light. This month, we will address two others.

Be Grateful, Let Others Know It

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

— Cicero


Despite being the subject of many a joke and a low ranking in various popularity polls, the reality is that virtually all lawyers are blessed. Graduating from law school, passing the bar and advancing in the profession require significant intellect. The monetary rewards that follow place most in the top 10 to 15 percent of American wage earners, with an ever-growing group in the top 5 percent.

Most truly successful lawyers I have known and interact with today understand this and are truly grateful for their standing in the profession and in society as a whole. These lawyers do not simply internalize their appreciation, but they have embodied it by saying thanks to others who help them on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, there are many others who have not taken Cicero’s words to heart, which may very well play a big part in why the profession enjoys a less than salutary perception in the public eye. All of us have worked with this type of lawyer: whether he is the one who immediately grabs credit for a big win or another who acts as if her success was a birthright.

If showing gratitude is not yet second nature, I will examine just one example – the importance of offering thanks for extra effort – and how it can play out in several situations.

Senior lawyer thanking a younger lawyer. This can take many forms, as it may include thanking the associate who worked all weekend to complete a challenging assignment and did an exemplary job. I have listened to some partners grumble that no such thanks is necessary, as associates are extraordinarily well paid and doing such work is expected. Successful partners know better – and just may attach a $10 Starbucks gift card to a thank you note. Which partner do you think gets the best associates to work for him? Don’t you think that having the most highly talented and motivated lawyers working with you produces better results and thus boosts you, too?

Younger lawyer thanking a senior lawyer. Similarly, there sometimes is a perception that it is not necessary to thank those “above” you who take that extra step to help. For example, assume a partner or general counsel (who just may have a spouse and young children waiting at home) stays late to review and offer a constructive critique of a memo or brief you prepared. I have also spoken with younger lawyers who feel no special thanks are needed in such a situation. After all, they posit, those persons are paid much better than we are and it’s their job to train us. I could not disagree more, especially in this era where younger lawyers may only stay in a firm or company for a year or two, which only underscores why someone should appreciate this extra effort.

Client thanking his outside counsel (and vice versa). I have worked with in-house lawyers who, much like the lawyers described above, feel no need to specially thank their outside lawyers for particular efforts. They advance eerily similar rationales, which include refrains like, “They should be lucky to work for us, as there are countless firms that want to represent us,” or the equally mystifying, “We are paying them $600 per hour and they are making a fortune themselves. That’s thanks enough.” What these counsel don’t realize is that outside lawyers, especially the most successful ones, can pick and choose those clients for which they will go the nth degree. They are human beings, after all, and will ultimately do much more work for those that appreciate them.

It is even more surprising that some outside lawyers either forget or consciously choose not to thank their clients for that new case (or deal) that was sent to them, the referral that the in-house lawyer made to a colleague that led to new business for the outside attorney or the commendation that the inside lawyer made to his management team on that lawyer’s behalf. For lawyers who “get it,” this mindset is incomprehensible. It is much more prevalent than many might think – which I can attest from personal experience and those shared with me by others. While performance predominantly is what matters the most, being taken for granted is not something that one ever wants a client to feel.

Be Selfless

“We are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy when they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them.”

— Prince Gautama Siddhartha


It may seem counterintuitive in this legal free-agent environment – in which a recruiter like me admittedly benefits greatly – that someone should be advised to put others first. There are so many benchmarks, particularly relating to compensation, that are tied to personal performance that it seems like sheer folly to suggest otherwise.

I beg to differ. The best lawyers I have placed or have observed or otherwise worked with are those who are team players and are truly selfless. The Terrell Owens, “It’s all about me” types, who may be supremely talented, can sometimes zoom to the top. In the long run, many of those types of lawyers have limited staying power, as their self-aggrandizing attitude chafes others and erodes their support.

Being selfless, especially in the competitive worlds in which lawyers operate, is undoubtedly very difficult. This is especially true today, since a firm or company’s institutional history does not run as deep, due to turnover, even at the top. That history, which often served an almost Orwellian function in imploring someone to “do all the little things,” since someone was essentially keeping score, doesn’t play the same role it did.

Nevertheless, being selfless is the right thing to do and is what separates the long-term winners from the also-rans (or those aforementioned meteors who flamed out). The following are a few examples of situations in which you can demonstrate this virtue – you surely can think of many more.

Let others take the glory. There is a tendency when a major success occurs to want to grab the glory. If that success was achieved as part of a team effort, it would behoove you, especially if you are the head of that team, to cast as much of the spotlight on other contributors. You can acknowledge your efforts (and celebrate them), as you surely worked hard. However, it is highly likely that key decision makers already know what you did, so go out of your way to let others bask in the limelight. They deserve it and will appreciate it; and

Position others to succeed. You may be working with a younger lawyer who needs the proverbial big break to become a partner or the general counsel who has to prove himself with a new CEO who just came on board. This may present the perfect opportunity for you to let the younger lawyer first chair a trial or for you to provide the memo and all the backup that the general counsel needs so that he can shine at next week’s board meeting. In order to do so, this may require you to stay in the background and could deflect attention (and praise) away from you. Embrace that, as you will be repaid many times over.

Giving back goes hand-in-hand with being selfless. Fortunately, the legal profession offers countless opportunities to contribute to others. There are countless pro bono programs and organizations that need your help. Similarly, civic, charitable and community organizations are always in need of assistance from lawyers.

As one advances in the profession, the inclination to still offer your time can often diminish, as writing a check can become the preferred option. The benefits of doing this cannot be minimized, as so many organizations are desperately in need of funds and highly covet such contributions.

Again, though, a common trait I have observed in the most successful lawyers is that they most often still find time to personally give at least some of their time to others. Most do this because it is ingrained in them; all tell me the psychic benefit they reap far outweighs any hardship or inconvenience.

It was Kahlil Gibran, after all, who so poignantly noted in that regard that: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

It is undeniable that core elements, like intelligence, legal skills and drive, are the essential underpinnings that are the foundation for many a successful lawyer. There are very fine lines, though, that divide those who burn out (versus those with long-term staying power) and those who vault to the top (versus those who remain in the middle of the pack).

Paying attention to the factors addressed this month and last could very well make the difference for you this year and beyond.

FRANK M. D’AMORE is the founder ofAttorney Career Catalysts, www.attycareers.com, aPennsylvania-based legal recruiting, consulting and training firm. He is a former partner in an AmLaw 200 firm, general counsel in privately held and publicly traded companies, and vice president of business development. He can be reached at [email protected].

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