Make it Count: Practical Ways to Make Lasting Impressions
This year, Nike launched its Make it Count campaign. “How will you #makeitcount in 2012?” they ask. While the slogan is catchy and certainly incorporates the social media of our time, making things count is no new concept. Many successful men and women have stressed the importance of making the most out of our time. You’ve heard the phrase, “Carpe diem!” For today’s young lawyer, seizing the day is more than just a phrase—it’s a survival tool.
Young lawyers must find ways to distinguish themselves in this competitive market. As a young solo practitioner, I have found that we are often our greatest tool for success. With every encounter, we have the opportunity to leave a lasting mark. Whether we intend to or not, we are constantly leaving an impression by the way we handle cases, treat clients, interact with colleagues, and present ourselves in court. Even when we’re not trying to project an image, whether good or bad, our presence always leaves an impression. As such, we must do our best to make those impressions count. The following are a practical ways to make lasting impressions:
Treating people with respect is by no means a novel idea. Yet, common courtesy frequently get lost among competing interests within our profession. Too often lawyers are perceived as abrasive, unfriendly, and uncouth. This perception is backed by data which consistently indicates that clients’ chief complaints involve attorney-client communication. The Texas Center for Legal Ethics reports that the top complaints against lawyers include rude or intimidating behavior, use of name-calling and threats, use of profanity, and hanging up on clients. As young lawyers we can counter these negative impressions by treating clients and colleagues with respect. You will be surprised at what sort of mark you leave by simply returning phone calls in a timely manner. You can also make clients feel valued by actively listening, speaking politely, and recalling minor details which suggest to clients that they are more than numbers or routine cases. These small practices are easy to adopt and, in a society where good manners are becoming more of an anomaly, they will be highly regarded.
Preparation should never be underestimated. Being prepared is not only important to the client that you are representing, it is vital to your career. Good preparation can generate benefits such as new clients, future employment opportunities, and respect from older colleagues. In a court setting, you can never predict what will happen or who will be watching. Be prepared for anything. Know your material, understand the rules, and present your case confidently. Don’t be the lawyer fumbling through the file, trying to find the answer to basic questions of fact.
Of course there will be times when you are unable to avoid having a file dropped into your lap at the last minute by a senior associate. But try not to use short notice as an excuse for failing to use the time that you do have to prepare. Remember that being unprepared never leaves a good impression, but standing tall and confident in the midst of pressure always does!
Produce Quality Work
The quality of your work makes a difference. This does not mean that one needs to reinvent the wheel on simple pleadings. Nevertheless, be sure to review your work for errors, substance, and clarity. Your final work product should not have obvious spelling or grammatical errors. These serve as distractions to the reader and suggest that you didn’t take time to examine your work. Failure to examine implies that one doesn’t take pride in their work and may insinuate that there are substantive errors as well.
As for substance, do your research. Don’t reference outdated law or make arguments that are legally unsound. Make sure that your work is clear and that it can be understood by the intended audience. If you have great writing ability, embrace opportunities that highlight your skill. In the end, readers will notice and your time and effort will leave a good impression.
Engage the World Around You
While you certainly want to make lasting impressions upon those directly linked to your profession, know that the impressions that you leave in your community are just as important. Don’t neglect the world around you. Get involved in activities outside of law. Have something interesting or substantive that you’ve been a part of or that you can relate to. Aside from being a lawyer, who are you? If you want to stand out, you have to stand out. Doing so will leave an impression not only on those you encounter as part of the profession but also among the rest of the world around you.
As young lawyers, there will be countless opportunities to leave your mark. Take advantage of those opportunities by doing the little things that help you stand out. Make impressions that represent the best you. Seize the day! And, in the words of Muhammad Ali, “Don’t count the days, make the days count.”
Latasha L. McCrary is a solo practitioner in Huntsville, AL and can be contact at firstname.lastname@example.org