By Kevin O'Keefe

Relationships, integrity, know-how, and enthusiasm : Now and forever

Lawyer characteritics of futureJordan Furlong (@jordan_law21), a strategic legal consultant and author, asked his law blog readers to prioritize 10 characteristics of a modern law firm.

The top four choices?

  1. EQ: Your high emotional intelligence fosters great relationships, especially with clients.
  2. Connections: Strong and productive relationships with clients in your chosen field.
  3. Moral fibre: You’re renowned for strength of character and high levels of integrity.
  4. Legal knowledge: Good old-fashioned know-how, the black-letter kind.
  5. Innovation: A talent for enthusiasm and improving upon current practices.

Solid characteristics for lawyers, now and forever. Just change the skill for know how and I’ll take them as the top three in any business professional. Doctor, scientist, engineer, accountant, nurse, or CEO.

I’ll confess I didn’t pay close attention to the survey results when Jordan posted them. It was not until this morning when Scott Greenfield (@scottgreenfield) questioned both Furlong’s take on the survey and his views on the most important characteristics of modern law firm.

From Furlong:

I can’t help but observe that if I had asked for the top five features of a traditional law practice in the halcyon bygone days of the profession, I would have wound up with a very similar list. This isn’t to say that Law21 readers are reactionary conservatives, which I’m pretty sure you’re not. More likely, it represents a yearning for the future profession to return to the fundamental bedrock values that we perceive underlay the successful law practices of our parents’ and even grandparents’ generations.

I can understand that desire, and I approve of it to a certain degree: there’s an emerging consensus that whatever lawyers and law firms have morphed into from the 1980s to the present day, more has been lost than gained in the transformation. But however much we may wish for a return to the old days (and they weren’t wholly fabulous, let’s keep in mind), they’re not coming back. We can’t simply revisit the past to build the future: the architecture of legal practice has to adapt.

We can’t go back to relationships, integrity, know-how, and enthusiasm? Things my grandparents, parents, lawyer mentors from 17 years practicing, and business mentors from 14 years as a business person taught me.

“We can’t simply revisit the past to build the future: the architecture of legal practice has to adapt.” What does that mean?

Relationships, know-how, and enthusiasm are all scored zero (lesser importance) by Furlong in their importance for success in the future of law. Pricing strategies and “solutions r us” trump relationships and legal know how — by far.

I don’t want to be disagreeable here and Furlong is a pretty good guy, but this makes absolutely no sense. It feels like total bunk. It is ill advised to be teaching a law student, new grad, or law firm to stray from core fundamentals if they are going to be successful in tomorrow’s world.

Tell a managing partner that relationships and a reputation (earned through know-how) are “secondary characteristics” that can be developed after pricing strategies and financial facility.

Relationships and reputation are the leading way lawyers and law firms get work. Too bad only about 5 to 7% of lawyers are good at bringing in work this way. At the same time number crunchers (not to demean their value) are readily available.

Has Furlong had his back to the wall as a corporate board member being sued by a federal agency, an insurance company suing you for defamation, fighting a strong law firm to get your files out (life blood for your family), or suing a government agency for disclosure of records to prove the claims you’ve made in the press?

Or had to fight for the life-time resources for a severely brain damaged child against a medical institution worth billions who holds nothing back in trying to defend a doctor whose negligence is ultimately found to be the cause of this child’s injury and a young parents’ loss?

If so, I don’t think he’d so lightly dismiss the value of a relationship with a lawyer or say this as to the importance of legal know-how.

Legal knowledge is now widespread and easily accessible, and its price keeps dropping. I can outsource this asset, retrieve it when and from whom I need it, and build up other resources instead.

I fell in love with the use of the net as a practicing lawyer back in 1996 because of its power to build relationships and a reputation. I also loved the network I could grow to build my my legal know how.

It’s empowering lawyers to use the Internet, and what we’re now calling social media, to do the things my grandparents, parents, and mentors thought me that gets me out of bed each morning.

Maybe, going on age 58, I’m over the hill and don’t know what I’m talking about. But the importance of relationships, know-how, and integrity my Dad imparted in me thirty and forty years ago are still serving me well.

My gut tells they’ll be serving lawyers well in 2053 when we have self driving flying cars.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Brent Moore.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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