The Beacon

 In Redefining a Successful Lawyer

How we envision being a successful lawyer is a beacon for our actions

How we each envision success is significant in how we experience the daily practice of law. One of the most common complaints about lawyers is their bedside manner. It’s a complaint I hear from clients about lawyers they have worked with in the past.

“He never returned my phone call. I never got to talk with my attorney. It was not explained to me in a way I understood. She never told me about the process I would be going through. I didn’t feel like my attorney really cared about me. My attorney didn’t listen to me. My attorney didn’t answer my questions” — these are in the top 10 complaints list about attorneys. Our responses are often: I listen, I care, I’m too busy or I told them that.

Even though there are clients that are difficult to work with, it does not explain this endemic public perception. What would it be like to work in a profession where the reputation that precedes you is one of clients feeling respected, listened to and valued?

While I can’t change how the practice of law is perceived, I can change how I practice law. I can’t change the reputation of other attorneys but I can create the reputation that personally precedes my law firm and me. When a client refers someone to me what I hope they are effectively saying is: Not only will he get you the best result possible, he really cares about his clients.

If my goal is to be a successful lawyer then I’m going to take the steps on a daily basis to accomplish it. The less aware I am of how I picture success, the more likely I am to adapt behaviors that are not in my long term interest. In spite of outward appearance, I seldom intentionally act in ways that thwart my success.

A few years ago I was on the  phone, talking with my wife, scanning emails and figuring out what I had to do next. Then Jan says to me “You are not paying attention, you are doing something else. Maybe we should talk when you can focus better.” How the heck did she know that? I was being perfectly appropriate. I was answering her questions and I was paying attention to her — just not with my full attention.

I realized that if my wife is picking this up, maybe, at some level, my clients are as well. They’re not going to articulate it the way she did, but they still have that feeling or sense that they don’t have my full attention and focus. We all know what this feels like.

That was the day that I modified my definition of success. Without realizing it at the time, I decided that each conversation with a client is a mindfulness exercise. A meditation if you will, to fully focus. Sometimes I have to turn off my computer screen or close my eyes to stop the distractions that scatter my attention when I’m talking with a client.

The decision to more fully focus with each client allowed me to better serve them and myself. The greater awareness of all that encompasses true success for me, the more dynamic my life will be. It’s the beacon that calls forth my actions.

How do you define success in both the big and small picture of your practice? What does your client experience in his or her relationship with you? Equally important, what are you experiencing in your practice of law? Is it a checklist of things to do? Or a checklist of opportunities to more deeply connect with clients and yourself?

There are wonderful resources, both local and nationally, about meditation for lawyers. In the Portland area,  Michael Dwyer has been at the forefront of this movement for quite sometime. Nationally, Jeena Cho is the creator of She focuses on meditation to calm the anxiety we all too often experience as attorneys. While some level of anxiety is part of being human, too much gets in the way of being our most successful selves.


Share this:
Recent Posts
Showing 2 comments
  • Katherine

    I love this. I too strive to serve my clients well and listen to them. Happy to know another lawyer thinks like me.

    • Jim Dwyer

      It is always amazing and affirming to me the expanded experience I receive from giving a client or potential client my undivided attention. Most of the time people can feel when you have really made them the center of the conversation and they appreciate it. Being a lawyer is a multifaceted profession that calls on us to be more than knowing the law well. Thank you for your thoughts on this Katherine.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

Thank you for reaching out. Please let me know how I can be of service to you in finding greater meaning in your practice of law and life.