Client suggestions for how to be an effective lawyer – Part 1 of 2

Continuing on the theme of the past couple of entries, this post (part one of two) reviews a recent Washington Lawyer article (It's the Clients, Stupid) that summarizes what clients value from the perspective of in-house counsel.  Below are the three items discussed with LegalJob’s suggestions on how to implement each idea.

1.) Know my business.

The article advises lawyers to “invest some of your own time—gratis—by learning what the organization does, how it does it, and its plans for the future.” LegalJob has previously posted here about some of the ways one might go about learning the client’s business, its industry, and its competitors, and create the so-called client for life. Visit the client’s site, read the client’s big documents (SEC filings, Offering Memoranda), read the competitor’s big documents, review the client’s web presence, read the trade press, and attend relevant association conferences.

2). Help me do my job.

The article points out that clients are judged by their organizations. So, in addition to doing his or her job well, the lawyer can help the client by making him or her look good. LegalJob has previously posted here about the mindset of being of service with some examples of how superstar associates think.   The summary is that these lawyers get that the client may need more than just xyz advice, they deeply understand their client’s business and what worries their client, and they treat other’s problems as their own and come up with solutions. LegalJob gives the example of a tax associate who understands that, in certain contexts, she may really be functioning as a business lawyer that specializes in tax. She gets that that tax is one of a series of issues involved in a transaction or litigation matter such that she can provide additional value by raising questions and identifying relevant issues outside of the Internal Revenue Code.  This associate is curious, asks open-ended questions, and listens to the responses. And, importantly, she puts the same energy and resolve toward the client’s problem as she does her own.

3.) I just want the answer.

The article notes that instead of detailed and verbose analysis, clients frequently just want answers in digestible bites that can be used to brief their organization’s management. LegalJob has previously posted here that lawyers seeking to become more effective are well advised to learn and follow the habits of the world’s greatest business communicators. Some examples when speaking or writing are to start strong, be clear, and keep it short.

In addition, LegalJob has posted here about three keys to giving advice. The three keys are to:

  • Understand that the value to your advice is not in direction but in information. The point here is that despite what this article says, in some cases, the appropriate next step or “the answer” is not as helpful as providing sufficient and relevant information from which the person can make an informed, thoughtful decision.
  • Listen more than you talk. When asked to offer advice, first do not offer advice. Listen and then listen some more.Before dispensing advice, ask questions to help you understand the problem and to help the person seeking advice understand the problem.
  • Inform more than you advise. Do the work (such as reading and understanding the law and policy where statutes are ambiguous), be patient, and do not jump to conclusions. Then, provide value by taking the welter of considerations and sorting them out but stop short of making recommendations (unless and until asked).

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at