This, of course, is the sort of problem most lawyers want more of.
We dream of having cases we are proud to parade before the public like prize-winners at the Westminster Dog Show. Too often, though the reverse is true. Our cases are sad, maladjusted beasts best kept in a backyard pen far from view.
But this need not be so.
By taking a few simple steps you can turn a flea-bitten file cabinet into a kennel full of winners:
Pick the right dog. Here's the truth: the champion canines at Westminster are screened, bred and trained with a rigor and precision that makes American Idol look like a crapshoot. Small wonder they rack up the ribbons. Perhaps you cannot be quite so selective with your cases. Maybe you have no say in the matter. What you do have is the choice to do your very best with what you have to work with. Make this choice, and the trophies will come.
Beware the sad-eyed stray. Do not be tempted to adopt every mutt that shows up on your doorstep. Sometimes the smart and compassionate move is to send the poor thing on its way, or perhaps suggest another lawyer who doesn't mind cleaning up messes.
Watch out for problem pooches. Some dogs are too needy, and some don't play well with others. Some beg too much, while others roll over too easily. Look for personality traits in the initial meeting that might suggest trouble down the road. Remember as you take on a new matter that you are putting your license and reputation on the line, not to mention your sanity.
Check the paperwork. Expert breeders document every time their precious little poodle so much as sneezes. Develop the habit of creating a clear and traceable trail as you work on cases. You never know what minor detail might win the day or save your neck.
Be considerate of your neighbors. Nobody likes living next door to a barking dog. Be responsible. When you bring home a new pet, it affects the whole family. Similarly, when you take on a new case, it becomes a firm-wide responsibility.
Success breeds success. Superior breeders are always looking for the Next Big Thing in the dog world. At the upcoming Westminster show, a half dozen breeds such as the Cesky Terrier and the Finnish Lapphound will make their debuts. Likewise, savvy lawyers keep their eyes and minds open for emerging practice areas such as eco-law, social media and privacy, and ocean rights.
Look for new and promising breeds. In a new book about Rin Tin Tin, it is revealed that there was actually an entire line of "Rintys," each descended from the Original Tin. One good dog leads to another. The same is true in the law. Successful cases are self-perpetuating. The best way to get new clients is to do a great job for the ones you have now.
Hold tight to the leash. Some dogs want to take their owners for walks. Others think chasing after a speeding Subaru is a fine idea. Cooperation between client and counsel is essential for a happy outcome. But disaster strikes if either forgets which one is Alpha.
Fido hears things we can't. Lawyers tend to be better talkers than listeners. It's part of our training: to argue, extol and pontificate. But sometimes our clients and colleagues — even our adversaries — have important things to tell us, if only we take time to listen.
Build trust. Is there any doubt that Lassie had complete trust in Timmy? Why else would she dash into burning barns and leap off cliffs at his verbal command? Our jobs become easier when our clients trust us. We don't have to worry so much about covering ourselves or watching our backs. But trust is a fragile thing. Once lost it is difficult if not impossible to recover.
Chasing your tail won't get you anywhere. It will only make you dizzy. Know when to call it quits — in a line of questioning, an argument or an entire case. Remember that the easiest way to get out of a predicament is to not get into it in the first place.
Plan for greatness. This year's Westminster Show will be held in mid-February. Participants have been preparing for this event all year. The minute the last prize is presented, they will start preparing for next year. Good lawyers do the same thing. As soon as one case ends, they turn eagerly to the next one. They enjoy what they do, and 2009 FEO 16 tells them how to go about sharing their success stories.
Ernest (Jay) Reeves Jr. is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. He has practiced in both states and was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He writes the Risk Man column of practice pointers and risk management tips. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.www.riskmanlawsolutions.com.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.