Attorney at Law Magazine Dallas Publisher PJ Hines sat down with Marilea Lewis to discuss mentors, and advice she would give new attorneys.
AALM: What is the best advice you received from a mentor figure?
Lewis: It was excellent advice, and it was to accept my clients as they are and who they are. Very rarely do people seek the advice or services of an attorney if they are happy. When that client comes in, it is because she is hurt, angry or confused about a person or event in her life. That is just a fact. You didn’t cause the problem and you may not be able to resolve the problem. So you must manage the client’s expectations about the process and potential outcome. The client is not your mother, your sister or your daughter. You are not responsible for her happiness. Your job is to represent your client to the best of your ability and to advocate for your client with integrity and intellectual honesty. You are not solely responsible for the outcome of the case.
AALM: What qualities do you believe separate a good attorney from an excellent attorney?
Lewis: There is a saying among lawyers that a good lawyer knows the law and a great lawyer knows the judge. What that actually means is that a great lawyer has considered all of the aspects of the case, which would include any previous rulings by the judge in a similar case. Judges do not hear cases in a vacuum. They bring their life experiences, as well as insight gained from other cases, to the bench. A good lawyer knows his client, the facts of his case, and the evidence he will present. A great lawyer knows all of this and can analyze – and anticipate – how the judge will receive/interpret/assess the evidence and possibly rule.
AALM: In terms of retaining clients, what single act do you believe is most effective?
Lewis: I believe the most effective act in the retention of clients is responsiveness. Clients want to know what is going on in their case. They want to understand the process and have some measure of control and input in the matter. Consequently, it is incumbent upon attorneys to respond to client questions and address their concerns. After a long day of trial or mediation or negotiation, it is difficult to have the energy to respond to emails and return phone calls. However, a two line email or a brief voicemail acknowledging the concern and providing a time at which a full response will be given will go a long way in developing the attorney-client relationship.
AALM: What advice would you offer a newly licensed attorney?
Lewis: My advice to newly licensed attorneys is twofold. First, do not take yourself too seriously. Young lawyers have a tendency to lose their sense of humor and believe in their own self-importance. While you have accomplished a great deal by graduating and passing the bar, you certainly are not the only one who has done so. The practice of law is demanding. Without a sense of humor, the practice can be extremely stressful. Second, would be to remember the pride, the exhilaration and the gratitude you felt when you got your bar results. Three years of hard work had paid off. As a result, you were going to be admitted to a great profession. Always take pride in the practice of law and strive to make it the venerable profession it is. And remember to be grateful that you had the opportunity to attend law school and ability to pursue a career in law.
AALM: How do you work to maintain balance between your home life and work life? What single tip would you offer a young attorney?
Lewis: For young attorneys (and older attorneys too), balancing your home and professional lives is so important. With that in mind, I would urge you to establish boundaries and set priorities. It is entirely too easy to blend office and home. A briefcase full of documents to review or briefs to write, taken home will blur the line between office and home. There will be times that working after hours at home will be unavoidable. But it shouldn’t be habitual. There needs to be a clear demarcation between the office routine and relaxing at home. After establishing boundaries, it is important to determine priorities. Time is finite. There are only 24 hours in a day. Many of life’s events only happen once. Prioritize activities to accommodate those events, taking time to do things you want to do with people you care about.
AALM: How important is culture when selecting the law firm you work with?
Lewis: Culture is very important when selecting the law firm for whom you will work. If you are a boots and blue jeans type, then a firm with a rigid dress code would not be a good fit obviously. However, more important is the firm’s attitude about, and approach to, the practice of law. If the firm has a lackadaisical attitude toward the practice, that may be problematic for a more detail-oriented attorney. Don’t be hesitant to inquire about firm policies and procedure. In order to be as effective an attorney as you can be, you will need an environment in which you feel comfortable. The culture of the firm is an essential element in choosing the right place to work.