Early on in my practice, I had a mentor who told me, “Never forget that it’s all about relationships.” He was trying to explain to me that there was no magic bullet to marketing—if the relationship wasn’t there, if the other person didn’t like and respect you on some level, you would never work together.
But it’s not just about the clients. The same thing holds true for my relationship with fellow attorneys and bosses.
Rules for playing well with other lawyers and co-workers:
Be someone that others can count on.
If you make a promise to someone else, keep it. If you say you can help on a project—show up and be committed. This also goes for promises that you make to yourself. Honoring your word not only shows others that they are important to you, but it demonstrates your values—you value others’ time and you value your word.
Be honest about mistakes.
If you forget about a deadline or forget to confirm that a case remains “good law,” own it. Be honest about it and don’t make excuses. You are human. You are not a robot. Owning your mistakes demonstrates humility and honesty. People trust others who are honest and willing to make mistakes and own them. People are also much more forgiving if they don’t suspect they are being lied to.
Take confidentiality seriously.
We are lawyers, after all, and part of the gig is keeping secrets. Why is it so hard to apply that to your co-workers and relationships? If someone is confiding in you, it means that they see you as a trustworthy person. Why would you then go and erode that trust by splashing their secrets all over the firm? Do not get a reputation for being the office gossip. Build a reputation of being a person that others can trust.
Law firms can be incredibly competitive but keep in mind that your day will come when others will have an opportunity to judge you too. Be accepting of others and approach them from a place of compassion and curiosity. Believe me, there are people out there who are confused by you too. Don’t be a jerk; you are all in this together. You are part of a firm, not a solo practice. Build each other up instead of breaking each other down.
Do not exaggerate.
This applies to both your skill sets and your billable hours. Everybody knows who pads the bills and everyone knows who is always pretending to be an expert in everything. If you claim to be an expert in something or claim to have invested significant time on a project, people will count on you to be that expert. One exaggeration can ruin your reputation with an important partner or client. People come in and out of law firms all the time and no one is going to hire you if you have a reputation for padding your hours or mis-stating your skill set.
If you can employ these rules, I promise you, your personal and professional life will flourish.
I’ve seen secretaries become vice presidents at Fortune 500 companies and I’ve seen slacker associates become innovative rainmakers. Never sell someone short or classify them as not worthy of your relationship-building efforts. You never know who will be in a position to support your practice in the future. Your relationship and interactions with others have ripple effects.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Besides, is it really so terrible to just show up and try to be a good human to everyone you encounter? If you are successful at that 50% of the time, people will be much more accepting of you when you are failing to be a good human.
It’s never too early to start building your network and your practice. Let me support you in building a powerful and rewarding legal practice. What do you have to lose?