"LESSONS LEARNED" - PRACTICAL TIPS FOR NOVICE AND VETERAN LAWYERS & REALTORS
Picked up over the years, not all personal to me (thank goodness) - but a check-list to keeping one grounded and satisfied in one's professional career and personal life.
1. "Spouse first, Kids second, Law third." Your Husband/Wife & children don’t miss you when they are asleep. Be with them when they are awake. Make time to be home at mealtime. Be home at bed-time. This pyramid for your professional and family life will often be turned on top of its head for extended periods of time. ALWAYS return to it.
2. Do something for yourself, everyday. Find balance. "The law is a jealous mistress." Make time to recuperate, rest or recharge (however you like to do that). Avoid falling into the 6a - 11p, meals at your desk "Merry-Go-Round." Not only the law - any profession can grip one too tightly.
3. Reign in; appreciate your "awesome power." Allegations that you make in the litigation context are shielded from libel and slander. Be tempered in all that you do. What you say and do will be hurtful to those at whom your allegations or characterizations are directed. Remember where you came from. Just because you have a J.D. doesn’t mean you are somehow “anointed.”
4. Accept responsibility. Say you’re sorry and mean it. “Fall seven times, get up eight." Means you WILL fail. When you err, own up and accept responsibility. Never blame your secretary or co-workers for your errors. Ultimately, YOU are responsible for everything that you do.
5. "Commitment to Excellence." Cliché? Yes, but NFL Oakland Raiders have a point. Everything that goes out over your signature is a reflection of you. Just "good enough" isn’t good enough. Learn from your secretary or assistant. He/she will have more experience than you do. More than likely, he/she can do your job better than you. He/she will be able to accomplish more than you can, faster and his/her compensation will be a fraction of what yours will be.
6. Develop the "art of conversation." Work at it. Enjoy it. It is a necessary evil and an important social skill. What subject do people like to talk about the most? Themselves. At receptions and gatherings, expand your horizons. "I’m shy" is not an excuse. Doors do not open unless and until you unlock them.
7. "Burn No Bridges." Small town, multiple repeat appearances, cases and transaction. Your reputation is your lifeblood. "The List." Ask lawyers and realtors in town which members of their profession are on "The List." Criteria? Requirements? Qualifications? “Dishonest; Can’t be trusted; Jerk.” It takes very little time to get onto "The List." It takes a lifetime, to get off. Don’t get onto "The List."
8. Asked to represent someone or another’s interests? There is…NO GREATER HONOR. But, it’s a BIG, HEAVY responsibility. A deep commitment is owed to each client. Reliance that clients place on you is a tremendous burden. The most important case/transaction in the whole world? Your client’s. Honor that by your commitment to achieve the best result for them. The "best result” is not always total victory, the highest monetary yield. Conclusion and resolution (finality) are desired and appreciated the most.
9. There are precious few battles that "must be fought and/or won." To facilitate relationships and to avoid unnecessary conflict, learn the principles of, and practice "Tongue-fu" in written and oral communications: "You are right. I am sorry. 'Next time I’ll ___ (or it) won’t happen again." It is NOT a sign of weakness to avoid unnecessary conflict. But, when there ARE battles to be fought (and there will be): GRRRR!
10. Telephone etiquette: Make your own calls. Return calls the day you receive them if you can. Send an email if not able to call. Call during lunch, or after hours. Cell phones and Voicemail are connectors not available years ago. You have no excuses, and "I'm too busy" is no answer. You can't be THAT busy. And, make the TOUGH CALLS, yourself. Don't hide behind another if you should be making the call. Finally, that still small voice becomes a BIG VOICE when you procrastinate, and gets BIGGER the longer that you do. Don't.
11. Lawsuits and everything about a lawsuit, and the things that happen during lawsuits are “foreign” and give rise to much anxiety and fear for lay people (your clients). To the extent that you can allay anxieties, you will have done a tremendous service. Develop a good "bedside manner." The absolutely same thing(s) may be said about real estate transactions.
12. Litigation is not WAR. Litigation is a process for resolution of disputes. Opposing counsel are not gladiators, but partners who work together within the arena to achieve a resolution. The sooner you resolve that apparent conflict, the sooner you will be more effective.
13. Take the time to explain the law, real estate transactions, escrow, title insurance, procedures and the significance of it all. Cover who, what, why, when, where, how and what if; it's all foreign to lay people. Explain legal terms, proceedings, and consequences, in understandable, plain language. "It’s impetigo." "OMG!" vs. "It’s a minor skin irritation." "Oh, Thank God."
14. "Compromise is your friend." Consider the importance of the "glass half full or the half loaf." A proverb: "Even a single sheet of paper has two sides." When you find yourself saying at bed time, "Thank you God, for sending me only clients who are always right, you are worshiping the wrong deity.
15. "Do not judge too soon." Knee jerk reactions are usually inaccurate. "His idea, so must be bad." Learn the "measured response." Sometimes “all guns blazing” may be warranted, but rarely. On assignments from clients, know what the facts are, know what the issues are, and what the intended/desired result is before charging off toward the horizon on your white horse to "slay the dragon." 'Not fun to have to return with one’s tail between one’s legs and ask, "Uhh, what's the dragon look like?"
16. Commitments. Keep them, and be reliable. "I'll have a response to you by Friday." "I’ll be home by 7:30." Especially with spouses: If you say "I’ll be home by 7:30," make every effort to be home by 7:25. Note the difference between arrival at home 15 minutes early and arrival 15 minutes late. With lawyers, judges, clients and family, your word is your reputation (it also is the key to your livelihood). Engage in dishonesty and you risk losing your law or realtor's license(s). Your commitments: Keep them.
17. Professional competence: Continuing Education. Not just a chore. Your DUTY. Be at the top of your game, everyday. Keep up with latest developments. KNOW your industry and profession and the changes that affect you and your clients. TODAY isn't yesterday (duh). Learning is a LIFELONG endeavor.
18. "Your mother doesn’t work here." Clean up after yourself. Physical clean up is important. Intellectual, emotional and moral clean up are just as important. Don’t leave a mess for someone else to clean up. Clean up after yourself. Put chairs back in their place in the conference room; leave the room cleaner than it was before you got there so your associates can present a professional image to his or her client(s) when they come in after you. "No surprises."
19. "The train leaves at 2:00." Be on time. Be prompt. Be early. Be respectful. Don’t keep your clients waiting, and waiting and waiting. Avoid the "Doctor’s Office" syndrome. Tardy consistently sends the message of arrogance: “I’m more important than you.” You aren't.
20. "Professional: 24/7." What does this really mean? You are a PROFESSIONAL. Everything you do: all the things that you do reflect upon you as a professional. Even the things you wear. You shed high school attire when you went to college. You shed some of the apparel that you wore in college, in graduate school. Saturdays at the office with a polo shirt and slacks and sandals or shoes vs. slippers, shorts and a tank top? How would you want your clients to see you on a chance meeting? Carry yourself as a professional.
21. "You are who you are when no one is looking." When Mongo (your inner being) starts to lose respect for you, it is a slippery slope, indeed. WIN AT ALL COSTS? You will be tempted. A win obtained by deception or subterfuge is an abomination. You have to look in the mirror each and every morning. You want to be happy to see your true reflection.
22. "Community Involvement." Make time to be involved. Don't underestimate the need to "market." People need to know that you are there, available and can do the job. Boards are one very good way to get involved and be known. Be a rainmaker. But, be on a Board for the good that you can do for your community. If you are there only "for show," you’re a fake and a fraud.
23. "Be a Parent/Professional." Make time to attend significant events in the lives of your children. If you are qualified, coach. Attend games, recitals, school functions, conferences. When these days are gone, they are gone forever. If your firm/partner doesn’t appreciate the need and importance of the above for you, find another place to work. Serious.
24. Clients and entertaining: Be sure you know the policies beforehand; check with your partners/accountants. Do not do everything with an expectation of return. Sometimes, it’s the right (or fun) thing to do. Otherwise, it's contrived and insincere. Choose the venue wisely. Exercise judgment. Entertain according to your means. Out of town clients/guests: Honolulu is one of the most diverse cities in the world with world class ethnic restaurants. Introduce them to the experience. Entertaining after hours? Think, think, think. 'Nuff said.
25. Know/learn your cultures. Know the basics. If you don’t know ASK. If you know, confirm. Respect everyone's culture, especially if different from your own. Don’t embarrass yourself or lose an opportunity to capitalize on an impression. Removal of shoes at homes here in Hawaii; you’re a guest. Be sure you have clean socks, no holes. Know what is expected, and what is not.
26. Care for, and appreciate your clients. Thank them for their responsiveness. For the opportunity to serve them. Tell them that it is your privilege to work with them. “There are thousands of lawyers/realtors and you have entrusted your case/transaction to me.” Compliment them whenever you can. And, never take them for granted. "Thanks for working as hard as you did on the disclosures. I know that these exercises are new for you. You have shown great grace under difficult circumstances. I’m proud to call you a client."
27. Be resilient. Mr. Rogers: "You're Special!" and AYSO: "Everyone Plays. Everyone's a Winner" are NOT the real world. When opportunities are lost, put on your Big Boy/Big Girl pants and BUCK UP. One door closes means another door opens. It’s absolutely true. After a setback, don’t fall apart. You don't have that luxury. You can be dragged, or you can attack. Choose "attack."
28. Break out of your "comfort zone." Mainland trip for CE, convention or some other function, away or locally here at home: Make it a point to meet someone new. Do not underestimate the importance of marketing and the importance of personal relationships, new and old. Remember: when an out-of-state client has a Hawaii based need, if they don’t have an existing connection, an email will go out to their associates saying "Anyone know any lawyers/realtors in Honolulu?" If one who you recently met remembers you, you may get a call and a referral. Rainmaker!
29. Judgment: Don’t do, say or write anything that will be a potential embarrassment. "Loose tongues sink ships." BE CIRCUMSPECT, ALWAYS. THINK. Should I/can I say this? Always put foot into gear before inserting into mouth. Write everything with the idea that what you write might appear as Exhibit "A" later on. Same with client confidences. Honor them … zealously.
30. "Road traveled not alone." Express your appreciation to those who have helped you get to where you are, frequently. Never can be enough. Parents, spouses, children, mentors, teachers, classmates, clients, yes, even clients. There are many who helped to get you where you are. You know who they are.
31. Be a gentleman/gracious woman ALL the time. We humans are not perfect. But we ought to set a standard for living to strive for. Be humble and respectful and, respected. Involved in a controversy, a negotiation, a difficult transaction? Fight HARD. Fight FAIR. Be HARD on the problem, but SOFT on the people.
32. What are some of the keys to a successful career? Honesty, Reputation, Credibility, Humility, Service, Commitment. There are any number of others; you will all come up with others as you go along. Include, one more: Consistency. You gotta show up – EVERY DAY.
33. Learn the power of, and have the courage to say "NO." You will be called upon for your time and talents by any number of worthy suitors: clients, community, associates and colleagues - add spouse, family and children, too. The realistic "no" preserves one's balance, efficiency and personal inner peace. When over-stretched, over-taxed and over-burdened, physical and mental health, suffer. Your core foundation is a capacity to serve others. "E malamala ike kanaka nui, ike kanaka iki – take care of the big man and the little man." But, don't forget to take care of YOU, too.
34. Public Speaking: Before you speak, chase those butterflies away. While still seated, when no one is watching you, enjoy deep ujjayi breaths. Breathe in, Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Think "calm." Then, get up with confidence and NAIL IT! Slow down. Speak ten times slower, and enunciate ten times more clearly, than you think necessary. It works!
35. Recognize everyone who you rely on to do your work and those who assist you. Spread the wealth and credit freely and without prompting. “(Name) works WITH me (not FOR me); we're a great team. When it's time to celebrate completion of a project, a closing, or a milestone, be sure EVERYONE in the office who contributed - TOP to BOTTOM - is invited. No one is left out.
36. Versatility: “Be prepared to 'do what it takes’ to get the job done.” Titles mean nothing. If it means rolling up one's sleeves and getting down and dirty, get down and dirty. Be the “whole package.” Learn your business from the ground up. If you don't “know” the basement, you don’t deserve the Penthouse. Know the basics, the middle and the not so glamorous. No foundation, no upper floors. Simple.
37. Maintain a healthy sense of humor. Laugh a lot. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Be frivolous once in awhile, have fun and embrace the slightly eccentric and the unexpected. A professional's life is full of stressors, disagreeable people and circumstances, and dilemmas and problems, some your own, some your clients'. Be a problem solver, not a problem maker. Don't let anything or anyone steal your joy. Find your Happy Place, and when you find it, resolve to stay there.
38. Advising and making recommendations. Lawyers are called “Counselors” for good reason. Realtors, too. When called upon to provide advice, do your homework, investigate the facts and circumstances carefully. Evaluate the pros and the cons, consider all angles, apparent and not – and then provide a solid, confident opinion and recommendation. Eschew the “CYA” evaluation: the so-called “lawyer-like response” with a recommendation conditioned upon conditions upon still more conditions. “Close call, could go 50/50, either way. ‘Your decision.” How useful is that? NOT! Take a stand, provide a service. When one seeks your advice, he/she deserves advice that can be relied upon. He/she doesn’t deserve a wishy-washy response. If they ask for it, give them your recommendation: I recommend …” No waffling. At the same time, be HONEST. Clients come in all shapes and sizes with all levels of sophistication, and some will bully you (or try to bully you) into validating positions or conditions which may not be in their best interests (or ahem, legal). And, there will be times that you will be pressed to “give in” as a result of not wanting to tell the client what he/she does not want to hear. If it needs to be said, say it.
39. “Humble in victory. Magnanimous in defeat.” Prevail with grace, economy and class. Gracious: marked by kindness and courtesy; tact and delicacy; characterized by charm, good taste, and generosity of spirit. Everything in moderation. Think always, about “the other guy.” When you WIN and are elated and celebrating, remember that on the other side of the aisle, there’s great sadness. Accomplish the same results with a scalpel, instead of a sledgehammer. Kinder. Gentler. Cleaner, too.
40. "Affair Proof Your Marriage." Take this advice as you wish. It has been said that if you have not been tempted to have had (or had) an affair as yet, it is because that one person in this world who has the power to induce you to do so has not yet appeared in your life. Be aware, he/she will come. Circumstances increase the chances of an affair in the life of a professional. You will have individuals working together in stressful times. There will be trips taking you to cities where you are anonymous. Make no mistake, collegial relationships based upon friendship, respect and professionalism are common, healthy, and natural. Keep them that way. Some suggestions:
1) Tell your spouse everyday, with whom you had lunch, and where.
2) Find "safety in numbers" when traveling, for outings and meetings, etc.
3) When you find yourself attracted to another, you will know it.
4) Be aware of your feelings. Be HONEST with yourself.
5) Be vigilant. No one will protect you, except YOU.