Reflecting on 20 years as an attorney and 15 years in the legal recruiting business, Harrison Barnes has developed a strong sense of what constitutes the best attorneys. He is CEO of BCG Attorney Search, a top legal recruiting firm. Barnes, who has worked with thousands of attorneys, owns his own law practice, and has employed dozens of attorneys, recently published an article in which he identifies 10 characteristics he believes translate into becoming the best attorney. Based on his knowledge and experience, Barnes’ advice and expertise carries a lot of weight on this topic and should help attorneys become better and more employable, as well as assist employers in the hiring process by pointing out the characteristics most associated with the best attorneys.
Barnes lists empathy as the most important attribute of the best attorneys. The ability to identify with others means gaining a larger client base, being able to craft better arguments, understanding the motivation of others, and being compassionate. It is not the attorney’s position to judge the client, but instead to help the client and provide the necessary counsel in order to protect the client’s rights or interests. Therefore, if an attorney has developed a sense of elitism and does not understand the client’s needs, decisions, or beliefs, the attorney is likely to lose the faith of the client, which is bad for business and bad lawyering.
Barnes also refers to an attorney’s ability to overcome adversity as a vital characteristic needed to be a great attorney. It is through adversity that character is built, and Barnes notes that the best attorneys on his staff, coincidentally, had to overcome incredible difficulties, including: parental abuse, broken homes, poverty, and other unfortunate circumstances. Not only does adversity make an attorney stronger, but it also helps the attorney have empathy for others, including clients, which is a crucial element that characterizes top attorneys.
Barnes also asserts that top attorneys do not admit weakness, but instead put on a strong face and exude an aura of confidence and toughness. Barnes unconventionally advises, based on his observations of top attorneys, that attorneys should never admit any sort of weakness, even if they are clearly mistaken. He supports this contention by stating that “weak” attorneys are not perceived well and will not be as effective in advocating on behalf of their clients.
The best attorneys are staunch advocates for their clients and unflinchingly represent their clients’ interests to the end, contends Barnes. Barnes states that the best attorneys are never afraid and are always willing to go to battle on behalf of their client. Similar to his assertion that top attorneys do not admit weakness, Barnes also believes that top attorneys do not show weakness by allowing themselves to be harassed, bullied, or otherwise pushed around.
Aside from these personality traits, Barnes also describes many other traditional qualities and common achievements that characterize top attorneys. For instance, Barnes states that top attorneys typically have experience working for highly prestigious law firms. Barnes believes that attorneys who have worked for prestigious law firms tend to have higher quality work product, are more adept at social interaction with clients, and analyze legal issues better. In addition, many top attorneys internalize the firm’s culture, particularly those problem-solving skills that facilitate the simplification or resolution of complex legal issues.
In addition, Barnes adds that top attorneys usually performed very well in law school, received very high scores on the LSAT, and attended quality law schools. Throughout his article, Barnes offers anecdotes, vignettes, and informed observations detailing his experiences in the legal community in order to provide a glimpse into his determination of the characteristics embodied by top attorneys.