Volume 3, Number 4 • September 2005

 The Old Man’s Words of Wisdom

I had just gotten on the plane, and it hadn’t taken off yet. I looked across the aisle, and I saw a man who seemed very familiar. Being the type of person that I am, I tried to place him, and the only thing that I kept coming up with is that I thought perhaps he was a flight attendant on one of the many flights I had taken.

So I asked him if he was a flight attendant. He smiled and he said, no, he was actually a pilot. As we talked a bit more, it became apparent that at least twice a month I regularly flew the route that he piloted, Philadelphia to Allentown or vice versa, and must have seen him in the cockpit getting on or off.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that in fact I was practicing a legal skill that is frequently underrated—the skill of observation. Without thinking, I recognized someone I had seen in a cockpit apparently several times. This is a legal skill I think we all should work on and develop. We don’t know as lawyers what is going to be important when we first look at case. When we inspect premises for a construction case or personal injury, we should be looking at everything. We should be observing what looks right and what doesn’t. This talent is not something that is innate in any of us, but is something that a good lawyer must develop.

I know in my general practice many of my clients are surprised how much I’ve observed about little things about their business when I’ve come to visit. I recommend to new lawyers that when you go out to a client’s place of business, observe the area generally, but then take time to observe the smaller items, such as the fresh flowers on the receptionist’s desk, the pictures on the client’s desk of their children or grandchildren, an old baseball or football that may be floating around. It is the little things that count, and it is also the little things that help win cases.

If you are going to be a lawyer, be the best you can. This can mean noticing how a witness dressed and talked, observing what tone he or she used, paying attention to his or her likes and dislikes, and being aware of what sort of eye contact he or she used.

It is the little things that count, and keen observation will help you make use of those things.

—William G. Schwab, learning the practice of law for 28 years

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