How to Know When You’re a Good Lawyer

“How do I know when I’m a good lawyer?”

I was recently asked this question by a young lawyer during a training, and it got me thinking. While it’s a good question to ask, it’s hard to answer. What makes someone a “good” lawyer? Well, of course, it depends. That’s a question each lawyer should answer for themselves, but it’s not something we’re told to do in either law school or out in practice. 

Because many of us aren’t sure when we’ve hit that proverbial threshold, we tend to look around to see what others are doing. That’s why if you were to ask most lawyers this question, you might hear responses like, a “good” lawyer went to a top-25 law school, win all of their cases, is an exceptional legal writer, doesn’t make mistakes, is available 24/7, or looks the part.

While these traits might be important credentials for larger firms who have certain expectations of their associates to justify the cost they charge clients, they mean very little to the average legal consumer that represents the vast majority of the legal market. Plus, many of us probably know colleagues who fit those traditional descriptions but we wouldn’t call them a “good” lawyer at all.  

So what does make someone a “good lawyer” then? And how do you know when you’ve become one, especially if you are newer to the practice? Here are three traits we believe good lawyers have.

“Good Lawyers” comply with the ethics rules. Period. No excuses.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Of course we comply with our state’s ethics rules. Isn’t that the first rule of being a lawyer? You’re right, it is. But you might be surprised by how many lawyers are not living up to even this basic standard. 

Each year, attorney regulation offices across the country field complaints of lawyers not complying with the rules. And their annual reports consistently show the number one reason for those complaints is lack of communication – arguably, the most essential element of being a lawyer. Providing regular, proactive communication to clients is a foundational mark of a ‘good lawyer’. 

Our ethics rules also require us to provide competent representation. Does that mean a “good lawyer” is an expert, always before, or the best of the best in their particular field? No. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. Do research, ask questions, and pair up with a mentor to be able to meet this standard.

“Good Lawyers” provide exceptional customer service.

Forget about your law school ranking or the price of your tailored suit. Customer service is what the average legal consumer cares about most. And the good news is, that doesn’t have to cost anything. Clients want to feel understood, get honest feedback, and be kept up-to-date on their case. They want to feel like someone is in their corner and has their back. Most clients understand the outcome of their case is not something that can be controlled. When the outcome is unfavorable but the customer service was exceptional, clients will often still praise and recommend you. Providing clients with an exceptional customer service experience will not only set you apart from your competition, but it will create superfans of your practice that will continually refer new business to you. 

“Good Lawyers” are human and authentic. 

At the end of the day, we’re human. If we try to pretend we’re not by overextending and overcommitting, we’re only setting ourselves up for burnout. Showing up in our practices as our human, authentic selves is what resonates with legal consumers. They want someone with compassion and empathy to help them through what is likely one of the most difficult times of their lives. They are looking for a human being whom they feel comfortable around, who understands them, and who also happens to be a lawyer who can solve their legal problem. Good lawyers are humans first.

There you have it. Three traits we believe make a good lawyer. Of course, what defines a “good lawyer” is different for everyone. It’s an individual definition and one we encourage you to think more about. One way to dig in more is to picture yourself at the end of your legal career. If you asked that version of yourself, “Was I a good lawyer?” what would your older self say and what criteria would you use to evaluate? Write down your answer and compare where you want to be to where you are now. Then take steps that move you closer to your goal. 

Want more tips on complying with ethics rules, providing exceptional customer service, and being human first? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter where we share practical tips that don’t take much effort to implement but will have a positive impact on your practice.