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Routine, But Effective

By the end of January, lawyers who understand rainmaking, the ones who care about keeping their current clients happy and obtaining new ones, are asking themselves what they can do “new, better, different” in the new year. New can be good (and should be tried), but new is not always better.

I encourage those of you who have clients about whom you care to also remember that “old, reliable, effective” is a great way to go. Do you have a client who is a poor golfer or skier who, nevertheless, loves to do those things, and particularly wants to hang with you at the links or slopes? By the end of those less-than-high-level sports activities have you generally been given a new piece of work? If so, now is the time to make a first golf or ski date with them for this new year. Especially if your work cannot be seen as dramatically better than your competitors, it is time to repeat the things that have, over time, united you and your client.

Likewise, for most of us, our actual legal work has routine aspects. A real estate lawyer may have another lease renewal or construction contract. A criminal defense litigator may need to select another sympathetic jury. An estates lawyer may need to draft another charitable trust. Such work is not always inherently challenging. In important ways, that is why your clients like you. You have seen their or similar issues before and can handle them with comfort and experience. It is routine because you have become thoroughly expert; what is routine for you is good for your client.

Most legal engagements, whether deals, tax wrangling or litigation, have new aspects. It is a rare piece of work that does not have new combinations of personalities involved. But at the same time, for lawyers who have developed a high level of expertise, each new piece of legal work has portions that are similar, perhaps identical, to something that person has seen or done before.

The good news is that the life of a lawyer who has developed any real expertise is in major ways tried and true, reliable. “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Timothy 5:18. If the routine of performing your expertise starts to grind you down, keep in mind Keith Richard’s observation about skillful guitar playing offered in his 2011 autobiography, “Life”. “There’s nothing bad about monotony: everyone’s got to live with it.” (I am delighted to be able to quote the New Testament and Keith Richards in the same paragraph.)

Many lawyers of a certain age, if asked to develop a short list of people they believe would seldom be bored, would put Keith Richards on that list. Wrong. He is regularly bored by his own work, and excited at the same time. Both can be good. Even Mr. Adventure knows that the downside of skill and expertise is regular, but not constant, dwelling in the specialized, and occasionally routine.

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