Pip Greenwood is a senior partner and board member of Russell McVeagh in Auckland. She specialises in corporate law.
What makes a good lawyer? It’s not just about the law and in my experience, a good lawyer displays the following three skills:
1. Technical skills
These are fundamental and a given. In addition to possessing technical skills, good lawyers are always hungry for knowledge. They stay up-to-date with the latest legal developments and industry trends, are organised and can work well under constant pressure. Knowledge is a power that can be used to help a good lawyer continue to grow and is increasingly important in the fast-paced world we live in today.
The way in which the world has become more connected through the impact of technology and digital, is also affecting the way in which lawyers and all professionals communicate, and has brought with it its own threats and opportunities. A good lawyer will continue to upskill and look to the future to seek out the opportunities that our constantly changing and evolving business environment is yet to bring.
A client recently said to me that she wasn’t interested in advice that she couldn’t read on the first screen of her iPhone. I am sure that she was exaggerating, but it is a reminder that clients are often busy and time poor so need the answers to their issues presented in a particular way. As lawyers, we need to be mindful of adapting to the needs of our clients. When I first started working, the fax machine was new technology!
2. People skills
A good lawyer continues to work at understanding the needs of their clients in order to build lasting relationships. By getting to know their clients, they can spot future opportunities and identify issues that clients may require help with tackling. I think it is also important to own a client’s problems and treat them as if they are your own.
Working well as part of a team is crucial and, as lawyers progress in their career, they need to be able to lead a team. Communication and being able to draw upon the skills and expertise of team members or other subject matter experts within their firm to complement your own will be important for achieving and maintaining ongoing success, not to mention keeping your clients happy.
3. Business development skills
Being able to sell, being commercially savvy and running a business are all important ingredients of a successful lawyer. By treating your client base like your own business, and investing the time in building your relationship as a trusted adviser, clients will see how much you are committed to producing quality and will reward you with their loyalty. This obviously becomes more important the more experience you have as a lawyer.
It’s important to remember that business development is not just a one person show – it’s a collaborative effort.
Good lawyers can build relationships, influence, manage conflicts and navigate through office politics in order to get things done; and in a corporate law firm environment, working with other practice groups to help clients.
Displaying innovation, initiative, and entrepreneurship all help to differentiate good lawyers from the competition and by getting involved in the community and attending, hosting, and speaking at events, can help to showcase a lawyers’ expertise and skills to a wider audience.