In 1997, lawyer Stephen Comiskey wrote a very small book entitled A Good Lawyer: Secrets Good Lawyers [and their best clients] Already Know. In it, Comiskey sets out a checklist of the attributes that he thinks make a good lawyer. At the end of the book, he added a postscript 50 Ways Clients Can Tell If They Have A Good Lawyer. This is a small book, so if I had my druthers, I’d find a way to pass it out to clients. Unfortunately, it’s out of print. So what I’ve decided to do, as my first post of the New Year, is to post my favorites from Comiskey’s list. If you are evaluating me or your lawyer, I hope we live up to his standards.
From the book:
Good lawyers recognize other good lawyers. They can be found in every jurisdiction, in every courthouse, and in every law firm in the Country. But how can clients find a good lawyer? How does a client spot and cut a good lawyer from the rest of the herd? Are there similar traits and principles that all good lawyers try to follow? I there there are.
I also think that if clients know what those traits and principles are and look for them in their own lawyers they will have objective ways to measure their own lawyer’s good lawyering skills.
Here then are some of the traits and principles of a good lawyer.
A good lawyer:
1. Is always honest and truthful.
2. Listens; and speaks sincerely, or not at all.
4. Knows who the client is, remembers who the client it, only represents the client, and doesn’t surprise the client.
5. Keeps the client aware of developments in a timely manner.
7. Proposes legitimate and sound alternatives to get the client to the desired end result and argues for their adoption. Makes deals, doesn’t break them. A good lawyer is a closer.
9. Is willing to tell the client that the law sometimes doesn’t offer a remedy to every particular problem.
13. Explains everything discussed in terms that the client can understand and doesn’t use legal terms without explaining them.
14. Has a good reputation with their fellow lawyers in the local community in general.
20. Shares with the client the lawyer’s decisions and thought processes concerning the moral and ethical issues presented in addition to the legal and factual ones.
23. Has a sense of humor and keeps it.
25. Understands that lawyering requires working hard, but that it’s not hard work. Long hours alone don’t define hard work. People who do hard work for a living understand this and good lawyers do, too.
26. Treats everyone with the same respect and dignity that the lawyer expects to be treated with.
33. Is patient with those who don’t have that lawyer’s knowledge, education or good fortune.
34. Is proud of being a lawyer and how they have served each of their clients.
43. Maintains their objectivity about the client’s case. Good lawyers may be passionate about their cases, but remain objective.
44. Has faith in the legal system, but remembers that it’s a hands-on operation whose best results occur when they are that lawyer’s hands controlling it.
50. Knows that our democratic society and our justice system within our democracy will only last as long as we all continue to recognize that the personal dignity of each individual, even of the meekest or the vilest amongst us, requires our equal treatment of every one of us under just laws. This is the good lawyer’s gospel. American lawyers are prepared to fight and die for it.
I obviously omitted some of Comiskey’s bullets, but I am interested in what others think. For you readers that are lawyers, what do you think needs to be added? For those of you that have hired clients, what factors did you think were important? And for those of you looking for lawyers, what are you looking for?
Have a great new year.