In the early days of my legal career, I used to obsess over what makes a brilliant lawyer in the vein of… the wonderful Atticus Finch.
Years on, after observing a few great (and not so great) lawyers in action—the pieces have slowly come together. Here’s a theory involving three magic ingredients plus quips from Lee Harper’s timeless classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
“People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for.”
There is a very BIG assumption that, by virtue of association, being part of the legal profession makes one smart. Nothing can be further away from the truth. Unfortunately, it’s a myth that many people (and worse of all, lawyers) buy into. The arrogance!
For lawyers, this assumption places us in a state of fixed mindset—and limits our capacity for further learning and growth. I mean, what’s the point of learning anything else if you already know it all? It’s certainly one that I have to constantly check myself on.
Lawyers who know their limitations rather than taking on work they’re not qualified to do, or those who spend more time listening and less time strutting around, are truly scoring in this area.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Then there is EQ. The best lawyers have an ability to reason with compassion. They see things from different angles by walking in the shoes of others. They take everything into account, not just the case before them, but the overall picture. They’re human, and they behave like one.
#3. Common sense
“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fightin’ with your head for a change.”
The French writer, historian and philosopher, Voltaire, once said, “common sense is not so common”. It’s also the final part of the puzzle.
Common sense is something that we all have to work on as lawyers. We don’t always see the bigger picture. It’s because we’re too often dogmatically following what has always been done. We tend to pick up bad habits along the way, at university and work, mirroring what was done before—which surely, must always be done in the future.
Breaking away from this common nonsense trap involves stepping away from what we’re doing more often—so that we can see things more clearly.
Here’s an idea:
- Do a quick survey of the people (not necessarily lawyers) you can think of who have all three magic ingredients. What can you learn from them?
- Where are the areas that you’d like to work on for yourself?
And… on a less serious note, one example where neither IQ, EQ nor common sense exists in the legal industry can be found in this delightful recent Australian Financial Review article.