Column: The Business of Law
Honoring the Profession – What Makes A Good Lawyer?
by Mary Louise C. Hopson
What makes a good lawyer? Education, knowledge, experience, high standards and a good work ethic go far. But what else is important to being as good a lawyer as one can be?
We asked two really good lawyers, both outstanding members of the Dallas Bar Association, who make a real difference in the Dallas legal landscape, to share their thoughts.
Be Available and Be Helpful
Strasburger & Price partner Bob Thomas has spent decades helping the profession, becoming a very well-regarded lawyer. A key figure in establishing the Belo Mansion as headquarters for the Dallas Bar Association many years ago, Mr. Thomas often can be found leading groups of summer clerks and newly-minted lawyers through the building and describing the history of the former funeral parlor and home of Col. A. H. Belo that was renovated to house the DBA.
Although he is technically “retired,” Mr. Thomas admits that he “flunked retirement.” He goes to the office every day, is found at the same phone number assigned to him decades ago and is very much a part of the local legal scene. For starters, a good lawyer, Mr. Thomas said, answers his or her own telephone.
“A lawyer does not need to have a secretary answer and screen calls,” Mr. Thomas said, adding that even Henry Strasburger, founder of his firm, answered his own phone back in the day. “A lawyer should be readily available to answer the phone. Most telephones these days will tell you who is calling, so you already know who is on the line. Don’t be so self important that you won’t answer your own phone calls.”
Once on the telephone, said Mr. Thomas, a lawyer should try to be as helpful as possible.
“Try to be of help on the first call,” he said, adding that “it’s scary to call a lawyer for some people. Ask about the nature of their problem. See what you can do for them, and ask how you can be of help. After a little conversation, you will be able to tell if the problem is within your area of competence. If it’s not, try to refer the caller to someone who knows how to help them. You can be helpful without having to make an appointment, or worrying about charging for every single call or sending out a bill.”
With Hard Work, Passion and Courage, the Money Will Follow
Mike Boone is a partner at Haynes and Boone, which has 550 lawyers working in 30 major legal practice areas in 12 cities around the world. Richard D. Haynes, his securities law instructor, hired him in 1967 after graduation. In 1970 the two formed Haynes and Boone. Being a good lawyer requires a lot of hard work, he said.
“You have to become the best expert in your field, to be knowledgeable,” Mr. Boone said. “But clients don’t pay for knowledge. They pay for great judgment, experience, creativity and problem-solving ability–things that are beyond what you learn in law books.”
Great lawyers have great judgment, and have mastered such skills as picking a jury, negotiating, and taking a creative approach to finding solutions to client problems, he added.
A good lawyer must also be passionate and not overly concerned with the “money” side of the practice, said Mr. Boone.
“Worry about being great at what you do, and the money will take care of itself,” he said. “The driver shouldn’t be the money. Too many people focus on the economics first, rather than being a good lawyer and putting clients’ interests first. When you put the clients first, they will come back to you and take care of you economically.”
Courage is also necessary, he said, “the courage to stand up and call someone out when they are wrong, to admit when you are wrong and to stand up for your principles and convictions.”
The Dallas Bar Association – Helping Lawyers Become Good Lawyers
There are many ways to describe a good lawyer. Of course, each lawyer is different, and each situation varies with area of practice, type of clients, professional setting and personality of the lawyer. The Dallas Bar Association provides its membership with a framework that can make each member a better lawyer.
“I think the Dallas Bar Association is the greatest public service bar association in America,” said Mr. Thomas. “Participation in DBA activities is a great way to honor our profession and become a better lawyer, whether one teaches at or attends our outstanding legal education programs, or takes part in our other activities. And, besides that, it helps keep practicing law fun!”
Mary Louise Hopson consults with lawyers and other professionals on marketing and communications issues. She is a former Co-Chair of the Publications Committee, and writes the occasional column The Business of Law. She can be reached at email@example.com.