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How to Be a Better Lawyer by Building Relationships

How to Be a Better Lawyer by Building Relationships

Written By: By Albert A. Menashe
Co-Founding Partner, Gevurtz Menashe

The practice of law is constantly evolving. I started law school fifty years ago and have seen this evolution firsthand. I remember starting as a 27-year-old associate at the firm now known as Bullivant Houser Bailey. At the time I became a lawyer, the firm’s patriarch, Rupert Bullivant, was being honored as a fifty-year member of the Oregon State Bar. I was in awe of Mr. Bullivant and his accomplishments as well as his legal longevity. I entered his office to congratulate him for being a fifty-year member of the Oregon State Bar and suggested he must have seen many changes during that period. He looked at me with a smile and said, “I have…and I fought every one of them.” I now understand and appreciate his comment.

As we get older, it is natural to want more stability and less change in our lives. However, change is inevitable. In my opinion, leading up to and with COVID-19, the practice of law has changed more in the last five years as compared to any similar period during the past fifty years.

How we find clients, how we promote our practices, technology…and client expectations have all changed. Especially technology. People now work remotely. Meetings are by zoom. Lawyers are doing much of their own drafting and pleadings.

We are also dealing with new concepts. Instead of lawyers working hard to become Partners, they are now weighing competing priorities. Why is this? For greater work/life balance…or something else? We read about options such as “the great resignation” or quiet quitting. Lawyers are no longer counting the years until they become a Partner but rather the number of years until they are entitled to a sabbatical.

Whether all this is good, bad, or nothing remarkable will be borne out over time. I have a few thoughts and reservations about some of these changes but believe the basic tenets of being a lawyer have not changed.
Being a lawyer is all about people and relationships. Always has been and always will be. Hopefully, with the impact of COVID-19 starting to subside, we can get back to socially interacting and sharing time and ideas with others. The relationships and friendships I have forged and fostered over the past fifty years are what have kept me engaged in the practice of law.

latina lawyer working

The isolation we all experienced in the last 2-3 years has made the creation and maintenance of relationships difficult. It has also created loneliness and isolation for many people, especially young lawyers, often living alone, starting to forge new relationships within their profession.

What can all lawyers, especially young lawyers, do to re-engage and hopefully create and foster their own relationships to enhance the enjoyment and continued success of their legal practices?
For starters, you are the center of your own solar system. The closest planet to you is your local bar association. Join it. Get involved. Meet new people. Help others. There is such satisfaction in helping others.
When there is a meeting, schedule yourself to get there 10-15 minutes early so you can visit with others.

This time is often more fun and rewarding than the actual meeting. Perhaps hang around a few minutes after and continue conversations. Oregon is a mandatory state bar. You have to belong. Make the bar better, it is your second closest planet. Make it more relevant by getting involved.

In Multnomah County, two events every lawyer should absolutely attend are the annual “Strictly Social Social” and “MBA Cocktail Reception and Dinner” in May. These two highly attended events give you a chance to interact with the greatest number of lawyers and judges on a social basis. If you are not practicing in Multnomah County, attend similar events in your county.

If you have never had a case with a lawyer before, invite them to coffee. Statistics clearly support that when we actually meet one another, your case will proceed more smoothly and be more enjoyable because the chance of one or both lawyers being a jerk toward the other decrease substantially.

Join organizations, religious, social, or other groups in which you have an interest. People will get to know you…and most often will like you. This is a great opportunity to develop not only friendships but perhaps a referral source. Isn’t that the classic “Win-Win”? Just make sure you have an underlying interest in the group or organization. Otherwise, your involvement could be seen as disingenuous by others and be counterproductive.

Get off the computer now and then. Instead of emailing and texting other lawyers and clients, call them occasionally. Talk to them. Face-to-face if possible. Interact with them on a more personal level. From my perspective, talking to adverse counsel about a case with some personal interaction has always been more satisfying than the cold, written exchange of words. It also provides a “booster shot” to my earlier comments about having coffee with a lawyer you have not met and have a case with.

business gathering of lawyers

There is no affect in the written word. It is straightforward and often cold. It is easy to misinterpret words. By speaking with one another there is less chance of misreading intent. Your affect when speaking cannot be communicated in the printed word. Clients and lawyers also read written words however they choose, which may not be consistent with what you intended. Talking avoids this.

If you really want to feel good about your practice, give it 100% effort every day. That is what your clients and your employer expect. It is also what you should expect of yourself. Be the best YOU can be…not the best. You may always perceive that another lawyer may be better than you, however you define that term, but if you give it your best, you should feel good about your effort and yourself.

Remember…law is a profession. When I started practicing, law was primarily a profession and secondarily a business. That has gradually changed to the point where, in my opinion, it is every bit as much or more a business relative to being a profession. Costs have necessitated this to some degree. Always remember law is a profession and you are a professional. Think and act professionally. Your behavior impacts the public’s perception of you individually and lawyers generally.

What does it mean to be a professional? To me, it means representing your client to the best of your ability; be professional in your dealing with litigants, lawyers, and the Courts; be ethical; be civil; and handle pro bono cases as available. Help those who need help. As I intimated in the beginning of this article, law is a microcosm of life; it’s all about people and relationships. It’s those relationships that make life and the practice of law enjoyable and satisfying.