We are a bit over three months into our blog and also approaching the end of the year. This always makes me take stock and wax a bit philosophical. Questions of why I do what I do, why I enjoy doing it, and how that compares or contrasts to the rest of the legal profession leads to the question of how clients should pick their legal counsel out of the crowd of lawyers.
The starting place for most would be that clients should look for lawyers with substantive expertise in the area of their matter. This is easy enough to say, but it feels pretty misleading to me. In my mind, being a great construction litigation attorney means first being a great litigator and a great trial attorney (we will leave the litigator versus trial attorney discussion for another time). It is difficult for clients to judge litigation trial skills though. Unless a client has tried a case with me or at least sat through a deposition with me, how would they know I can shred an opposing expert?
What clients can generally judge is the construction lawyer’s interest in the client’s industry, ability to speak the client’s business lingo and process industry information rapidly. These skills naturally help to efficiently handle a case and thus can save the client money. They can, but not have have to, translate into being effective in a deposition, mediation or courtroom. There are definitely some areas where not knowing the legal framework before the case can be fatal, mechanic’s liens for instance; however, in most arenas, a great trial lawyer can pick up the framework through hard work and education from the client and experts. In the end, it helps quite a bit for clients to turn to trusted business contacts for referrals that may be able to help pierce through the fog of gauging expertise in the law.
What may ultimately be a more important gauge of the effectiveness of a lawyer is to look for demonstrated passion in the lawyer and public command of their practice area. The sad reality is that too many lawyers are not jazzed up to practice law and are not really into their jobs. Especially in the marathon, grinding, and grueling nature of construction litigation, you better be enthused and intense. Looking for publications, speaking engagements, bar association and committee involvement, and active participation in industry related associations and efforts can be a great indicator of both substantive expertise and the lawyer’s passion and interest in a particular topic area.
This question of passion and enthusiasm rumbles regularly in the back of my head but particularly since I read a really interesting post a few weeks back by my good friend Chris Hill at Construction Law Musings on “Why Construction Law?”. Chris clearly likes the people and industry he works with and that passion conveys.
Soon after that post, Jetson Green (a fantastic blog with green information to follow daily) had a post regarding the Aqua Tower in Chicago: a stunning and unique elevation and planned for LEED certification that reignited the passion question for me. I see the Aqua Tower and I am stunned. The coordination of talents, energy and time it takes to plan, finance, design, and construct the built environment represents a continual series of remarkable achievements. What a great job to work with folks doing these great things. Call me a glutton for punishment, and my wife often does, but give me a show about Roman aqueduct design and construction or survey techniques for their roads and I am flat out loving life.
A few years ago I wrote an article on this topic, “How to Pick a Lawyer” for McGraw-Hill’s Mid-Atlantic Construction Magazine. While the article makes some decent points, I realize that sanitizing my thoughts for magazine publication, I left the critical need for connective passion on the cutting room floor. The other thing I de-emphasized was the overarching importance of the bond and connection between the lawyer and the client. As my practice continues to develop, I realize more and more that working with people that you connect with intuitively is so much less effort, so much more rewarding, so much easier, and so much more fun than business relationships that feel like a constant struggle. This is most definitely a two way street. Clients should hire lawyers that they like, lawyers they like to spend time with, and lawyers that are interested in them and their problems. This is especially true in cases that may have a long half-life where you may spend a lot of time with your lawyer, such as construction litigation.
On that note, we wish everyone a very happy and safe holiday season. Several of us are off next week, so our posts may be a little more sporadic and unscheduled for the next couple weeks until the New Year. We will still be kicking around some on twitter and the blog and continue to invite you to participate, debate, discuss and engage in the conversation even if we are a little slower replying than usual!
Image of NY Lawyers Rallying in Pakistani Lawyers from Eric Turkewitz
Image of Aqua Tower by Ryan Kirby