Having a cup of tea recently with one of my former colleagues, I was struck by the genuine excitement he still feels for the rich challenge offered by his work, even after 20 years in the saddle. Talking about what the future holds, it was clear that the profession offers a long-term and stimulating path for him. I also suspect it is this fascination and enthusiasm that is at the heart of him being so good at that aspect of his job. He was undoubtedly one of the best legal technicians I’ve ever had the good fortune to work with; a kind of super legal ninja if you will.
My thoughts then turned to other legal super heroes I’ve known. Some of them I’ve worked with, some of them have advised me, others have been competitors, but all have had legal “super powers” that in my mind mark them out as special. How many of these types do you know? In your firm? In your in-house team?
The first legal hero that springs to mind is “Client-Advocate”. Always focussed on the client, every timeline, piece of work or other deliverable is scrutinised with the client in mind. Will they be delighted with it? Will it help them on a personal level? I remember working with a lawyer like this during my training contract, and when reviewing a fairly basic letter I had drafted for example, they were always looking for areas it could be improved and making me think about how the client would feel when they read it: “if you had paid £200 for this letter, and the name of your company was not spelt correctly, how would that make you feel?”. These are the lawyers I would want managing my account and learning about my business. These are the people that clients find it easy to follow and hard to leave, and often have strong personal relationships with.
The second is “The executioner”. Not because of a ruthless attitude to litigation, but rather a single minded focus on, and commitment to, the discipline of execution. Getting things done. These legal giants can be found in many different arenas, from large scale corporate deals to complex litigation. These are the guys and gals that drag the ball over the line. They are the ones who when confronted with roadblocks outside their immediate control (be it a less than helpful partner in another team, an errant sales person on a deal or a particularly difficult or incompetent lawyer on the other side) will not sigh and point to the cause of the delay, but will just find a way to get things done. Often found motivating their teams when the heat is on and the hours are long, these are lawyers that clients turn to when they need a high value matter sorting out and just want to know it will get done, and get done right.
The next is “Planet Brain”. Many lawyers like to think of themselves in this category, but in my experience the real stars in this category stand out from the masses (many of whom are of course very bright) by a mile (and just for the record I was definitely not in this class!). There are different strains of this hero. Some are just phenomenally fast; so quick to grasp new ideas and come up with answers that they seem to operate in a different dimension. I used to work with a couple of lawyers like this and often they seemed to have digested what I’d said, before I’d actually said it. However, being patient and good listeners, I always got to finish what I was saying and never felt rushed, despite the fact I sensed that they were always two or three steps ahead. The other category of Planet Brains are those that think so deeply about things (which doesn’t necessarily mean slowly) that they are capable of penetrating insight which can often stop a meeting or negotiation in their tracks. Some of their output (whether oral or written) can blow you away it is such high quality. These are the people that in the right context, the £500 per hour you could pay for them would represent tremendous value for money.
Finally, a category that is in my experience rarer than the rest. These are “Talent Growers”. Lawyers that think and care about succession and personal growth. The people who go way beyond their line responsibilities to supervise and train colleagues. The people who will coach and mentor colleagues and clients alike. I have had the good fortune to work with a number of these, but perhaps the most striking message was one former boss who told me very early on in our relationship “I expect you to spend at least 20% of your time developing your people. If you don’t do that, you will fail me”. I thought that was a tremendous message and it empowered me to act in a way that was consistent with that approach. I was also held accountable for my own development and grew phenomenally as a lawyer and a person while we worked together.
So, there you have it. A collection of legal super heroes. There are undoubtedly more (suggest some in the comments below if you like), but hopefully these should get you thinking. The message I’d like to leave you with is that in these increasingly competitive times, all lawyers need to think about why clients (be they external clients for private practice lawyers or internal clients for in-housers) choose to work with them. Once this has been identified, how can you enhance this? Make it more different? Make it more widely known?
You don’t need to put on a cape or wear your underwear over your trousers, but you can reveal your super powers.