Good to Great – Lawyers, Paralegals, and Clients

Good to Great – Lawyers, Paralegals and Clients

Ethics and Professionalism

Course  Description

Jim Blackburn


                I have been told and now believe that the difference between a good lawyer and a great one is that the great ones strive to make the client’s legal situation better when the representation is through than when it first began.  If that is the true measure of greatness in a lawyer, then surely every lawyer or paralegal can seek to attain that.

                Many years ago, I had two lawyers who were easily two of the best in the practice of criminal law.  Their representation of me did not focus so much on the specifics of my situation as much as the taking care of me as a person and trying to steer me to a conclusion where I still had a worthwhile future.

                In many ways, such representation is harder than just the specifics of a case as it requires not only legal skills, but also patience, understanding, empathy and thinking in terms of the larger picture than just the immediate case.

                Now, a generation later, it is easy to look back and determine they were right.  At the time it was not always so clear.

                This program studies the relationship between the lawyer, paralegal and law firm and the client with the view towards obtaining what I believe clients want most…which is hope for the future.

                The following points are just a sample, and by no means exclusive, as to how to obtain that –

The first meeting between a lawyer and a client is the most important one. It is where                you learn to build trust. This is necessary because you are going to spend it as the           relationship goes forward.  The final outcome may turn out differently from initial                 expectations.

What clients want and need most is HOPE.

It is communication, stupid.  If you can’t or won’t do that, then let your paralegal or someone else do it for you.  It isn’t just returning phone calls. It is explaining the legal and factual situation every step of the way. In North Carolina, the Bar says the most frequent complaints are due to a lack of communication.  That is probably true in many areas.  Why not make this one of the most important aspects of client representation?

Follow through – promises, promises.  They are so easily made, believed and then forgotten. And there are always excuses.  Follow through is the most critical thing a lawyer can learn how to do.  It is almost as important in client relations as a detailed knowledge of substantive law.

Unconditional support – clients want you to be on their side…unconditionally… and you should be, unless ethics gets in the way. 

Empathy for the legal situation of the client.  Let the client really know you are on his or her side.

Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion or help from other sources…in my case, it was talking to other lawyers and making sure I came under the care of a well known and very competent psychiatrist.  This proved to be one of the best decisions my lawyers made.

Telling the truth – this is sometimes hard to do because it is often not pleasant.   This is the most important asset a client and/or a lawyer has.   It is essential.

There will be disagreements and arguments between you and the client.  This is normal in a stressful situation.  Let it play out. Don’t hold back from the client if he or she is not acting properly or cooperating with you.  And let the client come back at you. Out of these often argumentative discussions can come real progress and understanding.  Everything does not always have to be smooth.

Clients want your individual attention while they are meeting with you.

Clients need a sense of calmness and security.

Clients need confidentiality – it is the only way they will tell you the truth.

Do not be judgmental

Treat your clients as though their case is the most important one in the world – it is to them.

Treat your clients equally. One, though it may be a small matter, is just as important as a larger one.

Passion – I believe this is the single most important ingredient to being a successful and happy lawyer.

Learn to take care of yourself. Accept responsibility, including those that deal with mistakes.

                The backdrop for these discussions is of course by own personal experiences as a lawyer and also from all that I have learned from the many CLE/CE seminars I have held over the last years.

                Essentially, this is a personal story of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  It is a personal laboratory of the basic law by which lawyers are to conduct themselves and how that law and the Rules work out and are applied in a very real context.  It is an in-depth coverage and analysis of how lawyers, paralegals and clients should work together so that lawyers and paralegals, in complying with the most basic Rules of Professional Conduct, actually reach the very best representation of their clients.  It is the way to go from Good to Great.

Time –

1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. – Ethics and Professionalism

2:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. – Break

2:45 p.m. – 4:15 p.m. – Ethics and Professionalism


Jim Blackburn



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