In its March 25, 2013 issue, the National Law Journal featured its first list in six years of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers In America.” Looking at the names and bios, every lawyer would have been thrilled to be counted among these stars. They are practicing attorneys, members of the legal academy, and officials in law-centric government positions.
What made them so special – so unique that they could develop this high professional excellence? The answers are evident just from the NLJ bios in the March 25 issue. By the way, a significant number of them have been involved with NITA along their way.
Adaptability. These most influential lawyers – all of them – are individually adaptable. For example, many have served in private practice, switched to a high government counsel position, and with their enlarged perspective and knowledge gone on to serve as the wisdom in the room on challenging legal matters. Many have addressed widely varying disputes – from mass torts to cutting-edge competition clashes to challenges to statutory policy or regulation. In government service, some have advised at the very highest level. Many have literally taken on the role and approach of general counsel to a business, whether with that formal title or as Trusted Advisor. All of them have been imaginative, bold, sure, and able to assess the risks of positions to be taken. Virtually all have been active in the profession, engaging broadly to improve the practice, influencing the rules or process of justice, or donating substantial time and talent without compensation.
To have this authority and influence – and to dream the young lawyer’s dream of one day doing as much good with great effect – requires not only adaptability, but also a determination to find opportunities that force adaptation. That attitude of adaptability starts working from the day the lawyer starts practice. It is not weak, or indeterminate, or random. It is the will to dive deeply into subjects that are important to the outcome. It is the tenacity to set aside concerns about one’s own shortage of experience and learn all that is needed to create a successful outcome.
And these traits foreshadow success in the micro-efforts too. On direct examination, posing the perfect framework for the witness’s testimony by understanding what the jury or judge needs to hear and what the witness is able to offer. On cross-examination, seeing the opportunities arise by surprise – and adapting to them without opening unprepared questions.
By stopping to remember to learn, we adapt our approach and master the new. I will have more to say about particular members of our NITA leading authors and teachers in this regard. For now, let us marvel at the power of adaptability. And in all of our efforts, to live by the habit of “thinking to learn.”
Karen M. Lockwood