Attorney at Law Magazine Dallas publisher P.J. Hines sat down with attorney Mark Shank to discuss the advice he has to share with other lawyers in the latest installation of Tips from the Top.
AALM: What is the best advice you received from a mentor figure?
Shank: My personal motto is “do less, but do it very well.” This applies to all areas of life—from personal, to work, and everywhere in between. When I was a young lawyer, I remember my mentor figure telling me that potential clients watch you, their chosen counsel, to determine if you are a person of your word and if you actually do what you say you will do. The best advice I have ever received is to take the time to do your work well and pay attention to the details. The words from my mentor have stuck with me after all these years, and I hope to pass them down to any young lawyers who may read this.
AALM: What qualities do you believe separate a good attorney from an excellent attorney?
Shank: There is a steep curve between a “good” attorney and an “excellent” attorney. Throughout my time practicing law, I’ve found that many “good” lawyers struggle with getting the details right. Those attorneys whom I would consider “excellent” attorneys have a keen attention for detail in every aspect of the case – in drafting, in communicating with the client and opposing counsel, and in creating case strategy. The practice of law also is an exercise in overcoming difficulties and hardships. When things do not go completely as you may have planned or hoped, it is sometimes hard to not take those small failures personally. Instead, be humble and learn from your mistakes in order to press on. Those who persevere are more likely to be successful.
AALM: In terms of retaining clients, what single act do you believe is most effective?
Shank: “EQ,” which means emotional intelligence. In order to foster a good relationship with and loyalty from your client, it is important to make your client feel valued and understood. Clients, at the end of the day, are people. They want to feel heard, and they want you to be on their side despite the odds. Excellent lawyers are good technicians who relate to their clients and anticipate their needs. Lawyers who act intuitively and actively work to understand their client and his or her needs are the lawyers who are more likely to retain the clients.
AALM: What advice would you offer a newly licensed attorney?
Shank: As a newly licensed attorney, your first legal job sets the foundation of your legal career. In seeking your first job, your opportunities for training and mentoring are far more important than the amount of your salary. Find the firm with attorneys who share your same values. For me, some of these values are work ethic, collegiality, approach to the problem-solving, and treatment of clients.
AALM: How do you work to maintain balance between your home life and work life? What single tip would you offer a young lawyer?
Shank: The first 20 years of my life I did this poorly. At one point, I hired a business coach who taught me to how delegate better and more effectively. It made a big difference in both my practice and satisfaction. I suggest trying to not take on too much early in your career. And, if you’re anything like me, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to be a fine lawyer, which starts early on in your career. The profession itself is a stressful profession. Especially in litigation, you have people putting pressure on you – clients, opposing counsel, judges, and yourself. There has to be a way to de-stress and make time for yourself. Find a hobby or activity that you enjoy doing, and make time to do it, whether that’s barefoot waterskiing or making time for dear friends.
AALM: How important is culture when selecting the law firm you work with?
Shank: I find culture very important, particularly for a young lawyer. I believe that it is crucial to find a law firm where you feel comfortable working and where you receive proper training and mentoring. Also, find people whom you enjoy working with and work well with. I joined my current firm, Diamond McCarthy, last April—and part of what attracted me to the firm was the opportunity to work with a lot of former attorneys from Hughes & Luce, and I loved my time there. My friends from Hughes & Luce were kind enough to invite me to come to Diamond McCarthy, so I did.
AALM: What flaws do you see in the legal community? How would you recommend that they be improved or eradicated?
Shank: The adversarial nature of the profession, particularly when there is no objective to be served. I have noticed people arguing for the sake of arguing, and people taking conditions that seem untenable. Also, lack of civility within the profession— it has improved since the 1980s, but I do think that recently, this issue has worsened. I blame that partially on the media; political viewpoints aside, when people are on TV or radio shows where they are taking opposing points of view, they try to shout each other down, and I think that carries over into the legal profession. However, I am impressed with what local bar associations have done to improve these issues and I suggest that we continue with and increase those efforts. If more attorneys get involved in their local bar associations, there’s a greater probability that a collaborative environment will result.
AALM: What is one experience you believe is essential for every attorney?
Shank: Training and mentoring. A mentor is a valuable tool to a young attorney, and this person may not always be in your first job. Sometimes, you may never actually work with this person, but serendipitously come across them in your legal career. No matter how you find them, understand that they’re giving you their valuable time for your benefit. Find these people and work with them— they’ll encourage you, provide you with helpful practice tips, and listen to you. A good mentor will provide you with the constructive criticism and advice necessary to hone your skills as a young lawyer.
AALM: Would you encourage attorneys to become involved in legal association?
Shank: As a person who served in many roles in bar and legal associations, I would strongly encourage attorneys to become involved. This presents opportunities to share with your colleagues, learn from them, and make contacts. Any association that you join where you have much in common with others involved will be beneficial.
AALM: How do you stay in touch with past and current clients?
Shank: I am a big fan of recognizing peoples’ birthdays. Everyone appreciates that. Again, clients are people, and people, at the end of the day, want to feel appreciated. Even the small act of calling an old client on his birthday to wish him well goes a long way. Sometimes, the small things add up and surpass the big things.
Mark Shank is a former Dallas Attorney of the Month. He is currently senior counsel at Diamond McCarthy LLP, where he serves as an arbitrator and mediator in business disputes, and is also regularly asked to serve as an independent investigator.