A wise client told me years ago that a good lawyer must be four A’s. This was some of the best advice I ever got. Here are a few thoughts on what the four A’s mean.
He said that an attorney must be:
Able, Available, Affable and Affordable.
Good lawyers know their field of law. Research may be required, but lawyers should have a grasp of their terrain and the ability to quickly analyse the situation at hand.
Aside from knowledge of the law and legal procedure, other prized abilities include communication and language (a lawyer’s principal tool); experience; courage and confidence; objectivity; rationality and balance.
The Roman law axiom ‘Audi Alteram Partem’ means, always listen to the other side. The scales of justice represent balance and the two parts to every story. (Some people maintain that there are three – your side, the other side, and what really happened. The truth, as Oscar Wilde said, is rarely pure and never simple.)
An attorney must be able to understand the other side’s point of view. There can be no success in court, no good agreement, no stable settlement, without that ability. Non-lawyers are often frustrated by the uncertainty of legal outcomes compared to other professional sciences (engineering, for example). But this balancing act in the grey of human relationships, is what a good lawyer’s best ability is.
The most able lawyer is not the one with the most bluster or aggression. It is the one who can stay cool and balanced under fire, and who is able to persevere. In addition to the four A’s, there are the three P’s of success in legal conflicts, negotiations and settlement, namely: Perseverance, Perseverance, Perseverance – the ability to keep going to the end.
I have often found this to be the most important of the A’s.
Simple. Take the call, return the message, don’t postpone, keep clients informed, be personally available as much as possible. Yes, between flying text messages, emails and phone calls, it can turn into a quick-volley game of ping-pong and there needs to be boundaries (also to allow for dust to settle). But, a stitch in time saves nine. Reply. Be there.
Go to see your clients. It cements the relationship and builds trust. And, if things ever get screwed up, and sometimes they do, get in touch with the client without delay. Keep clients at the centre of their cases, for better or worse.
Attorneys must be friendly, good-natured and easy to talk to. Niceness should be a value of every law firm – internally and externally. It’s intimidating enough, for most people, to deal with lawyers.
Speak in plain language. Don’t be too formal.
Listen first, before you fire off your opinion. People need to tell their stories and have their lawyers listen with attention. Sometimes it means that a little psychological counselling gets thrown in. Common sense and empathy go a long way. Even if clients are big corporations, you are still dealing with human beings who are emotional, scared, angry, tired, stressed out or hurt. Be real.
Have a sense of humour. Be kind.
Affordability is often seen as being in competition with Ability. Some think that the more able the lawyer, the less affordable; the more affordable, the less able. This need not and should not be the choice. Very few clients expect (or trust) a bargain-basement price for good legal services. And everybody hates to be ripped off. There is a happy medium, which has to do with being plain reasonable, and with avoiding greed. Work is pride. Great service is universally sought after and will reward itself. Lawyers render an essential and necessary service which need not be cheap; but which should not be outrageously priced.
To be a good lawyer, you must want to help people at heart. Successful lawyering, in every facet of practice, flows from that instinct.