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Best Lawyer of the Year: What Makes A Successful Lawyer?

Posted By Shannon Stein, Thursday, March 10, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, May 13, 2014

by Shannon Stein, 2011 SCCBA President

On Sunday, February 26, 2011, the famous Hollywood Oscars were presented at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  At least three hours prior, stars took their turn down the red carpet, showing off their gowns and jewels. One the event commenced, various stars paraded on stage, announcing the winners in each film category after the famous large envelopes are opened.  The excitement builds up until finally the “Best Picture of the Year” is awarded.  This year, The King’s Speech won—which I am told is a fantastic movie.  I have yet to see it. (If anyone wants to go see it with me drop me a line.)

As I watched the Oscars, I thought to myself if I were giving out an award to the “Best Lawyer of the Year” what qualities would I look for in such a lawyer. As you know by now, my project for the year is “Essential Skills for Lawyers in the New Decade: Leading Lawyers to Success.”  So, what makes a lawyer successful? Of course, success can be measured in many different ways.  Is it the lawyer who earns over a million dollars a year? The lawyer that graciously performs over 1000 hours of pro bono work a year? The lawyer that is known to be the “rambo” lawyer in the county-- the one that you never want to oppose? The lawyer that work for legal services? The lawyer that everyone likes? Every one of these lawyers could be considered successful if they possess following characteristics.

Competency:   Our clients expect that we will have the legal knowledge and expertise to help them through their problem.  Since law school, we all attend (either by choice or by the State Bar mandate) continuing legal education programs and seminars to expand our legal knowledge.  We must continue to study and learn as part of our every day career life in order to stay abreast of changing laws and the changing legal culture in our County. 
Credibility:   We must also have credibility with opposing counsel.  We must put into action what we say we will do. If we agree to continue hearing, we must continue it. If we agree to extend a discovery deadline, we must honor that request.
Professionalism:  We often hear this word but what does it mean? To me professionalism means treating each other and the court with respect. It means having the highest morals and ethics in your day-to-day life and practice.  Judge Brian Walsh, in 1992, for his SCCBA President’s project, created and established the “Santa Clara County Bar Association Code of Professionalism.”  I urge each of you to read this Code, understand it and use it in your practice.  The Code is proudly displayed in each courtroom in our County.  In many of the Family Court courtrooms the Code sits right on the counsel tables as a constant reminder that one should always act civilly and professionally in litigating cases. 

Professionalism also means refraining from personally attacking another lawyer for how he/she is handling a case. I have received letters from attorneys who make comments about me personally. I received one letter from a former employer who told me that they were surprised by how I was handling this case.  This behavior is not only hurtful but does it really contribute to a resolution of the case?

My hope is that all of the lawyers in our County possess these characteristics. Speaking of all the lawyers in the County, my goal is to more than double our membership this year.  I know that this is ambitious task but if each SCCBA member asks a friend or colleague to join, we will easily achieve this goal. There is no reason why each and every lawyer of in our County should not be a member. The SCCBA is a wonderful organization. It is one of the few organizations where you can get to know the judges and work with them directly in planning and presenting seminars and networking events. The SCCBA allows you to share ideas with your colleagues to improve the legal system. The SCCBA also sponsors a variety of MCLE programs.

Finally, there are many intangible benefits that come from SCCBA membership that are not easily articulated but must simply be experienced. If you know someone that is not a member, please ask them to join or let me know. I will reach out to them and perhaps I can work my magic.

If you are interested in sharing my President’s Message with anyone they can be found at on the homepage of our new website. (I am told that my January article did not get sent out via email to our membership so please take a look at it in the President's Message archives, (the link is at the conclusion of the current month's message) if you missed it in the January Daily Journal.)

Have a good month.

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