my position as the legal director of student-run law clinic, I supervise and
teach law students. In this role, I am often asked what makes a good
lawyer. When I was in private practice, I assumed that exemplary drafting
and public speaking skills were required to make “good lawyers.” I was (mostly)
when a new school term starts, I make sure to tell the new batch of law
students that they simply need to master five simple skills to excel in the

1. Be Kind

basic, but so often forgotten. Be kind to the court. Be kind to your
client. Be kind to the opposing client. Be kind to opposing
counsel. Reputation is everything. The legal community is small and
lawyers like to gossip; if you are kind to other lawyers, court staff and the
judiciary, it will be noticed. Smile. Say “Thank you.” Be courteous—basic
manners go a long way. Court clerks and court administration staff are
strong allies, they have more knowledge on legal processes than you and can
make your life as a lawyer pleasant or miserable. Show them the respect they
deserve. Don’t forget, clerks talk to judges. Kindness to opposing
counsel/the opposing client can help your client. Overly aggressive behavior
will entice aggressive behavior in return. Don’t forget the collaborative
lawyering skills you learned in your negotiation class.

2. Be Professional

there are lawyers who show up to court unprepared, both in terms of dress and
in terms of organization. “Wear a suit jacket to court.” “Iron your shirt
and tie.” “Leggings are not suit pants.” “If you wear it to a club, it’s not
appropriate to wear to court.” “Turn your phone off.” Although this may seem
like common sense, I have made all of the statements to law students at court
on a number of occasions.
your diary with you. The easiest way to do this is to sync your work calendar
to your mobile device. Come ready to set a further court hearing.
have papers crumbled in a pile. Every day I see lawyers rummaging through
papers when addressing the court. Have your documents ready in an organized
fashion. Use tabs.
you look professional, you will garner respect. Generally speaking, the
converse applies if you do not.

3. Don’t Be Late!

am continually surprised by the number of lawyers (both junior and senior) who
miss court filing deadlines, miss court appearances, or generally fail to
adhere to deadlines previously agreed to. In today’s tech-savvy world,
there are no excuses for this! All deadlines should be entered into your online
alerts so you are reminded about deadlines in advance.
time off in your calendar the day(s) before the filing deadline to ensure you
have the time necessary to complete the task. Make an appointment with yourself
to get the job done. Set an alarm on your computer or mobile phone to give
you enough time to get to court.

4. Meet/Manage

to emails! Yes—the days of a junior lawyer are extremely busy, but respond to
your client. Responding to a client’s email can take as little as one minute.
a client sends you an email and you just don’t have time to answer it, ask your
assistant to respond. Ask your assistant to tell the client that you received
the message and are tied up for the next couple days but you will respond by X
date. Then, make sure you respond by that date! Set a deadline farther out
than you think you need. If you happen to respond earlier, then your client
will be pleasantly surprised.
you don’t have an assistant and are crunched for time, use Siri (or any other
electronic dictation tool) to send a quick email to the client. Let the client
know you will respond to their questions by X date. The client will be
less likely to inundate you with, “Why haven’t you responded to me?” emails in
the interim which saves you time in the long run.
you know you are not going to meet a deadline, let the client and/or the other
lawyer know in advance. They will more understanding if you ask for an
extension in advance rather than if you ignore them altogether.

5. Ask for Help/Make

is no need to reinvent the wheel. If you are acting on a file and don’t know
what to do, ask someone for help! Don’t guess. Don’t spend hours and hours
researching the answer when someone else in your firm, at the courts or
anywhere else, can help you.
out who the experts are and develop relationships with them. Ask around or
snoop on firm websites and social media. Attend continuing legal education
sessions. Join lawyer groups that interest you.
more often than not, are more than willing to take the time to help and mentor.
Engage them.
Ed’s Note: This article
was written by Natasha Brown, Natasha received her Bachelor of Education in
2001 and her Bachelor of Laws in 2005. She was called to the Bar in Manitoba in
2006. Following her call, Natasha worked in private practice until the fall of
2012, at which point she became the Family Law Supervisor at the Legal Help Centre. In late summer of
2014, Natasha became the Centre’s Legal Director.  The article was originally published here.