As I sat in my chair at the Canadian General Counsel Awards and looked around the sold out room, beyond the wonderful tuxes and dresses, the smiles and the great food, two important things ran through my mind. First, how incredible it is to see a room so full of capable, knowledgeable and accomplished external counsel, in-house counsel and other leaders of industry who are no longer actively practising law. This, I will admit, is always a great reason for attending wonderful events like the CGCA and the Innovatio Awards.
Second, and in no way less important, it struck me that contrary to the unfortunate reputation lawyers and our profession generally receive as ruthless, cold-hearted and merciless, the colleagues that filled the room on June 15 were anything but. In fact, the very opposite is true. Surrounded by many of the most successful and accomplished lawyers in our profession, we celebrated each other’s successes, shared laughs, spoke about the importance of mentorship and diversity and also came together as a community to remember and celebrate the loss of one our brightest stars, Stephen Sigurdson. The career of the late great Sigurdson, a successful and accomplished leader, emphasizes this point more than anything. Beyond his legal brilliance, he was also known for his wonderful personality, willingness to help and his legacy as a mentor and champion to so many lawyers at all stages of their career. The first thing everyone says about him is that he was a nice guy. He exemplifies the point that yes, nice guys and gals can and often do finish first.
Further to this point, when asked what I look for when hiring junior lawyers, articling students or summer students, my response is always the same: I expect competency, but I look at how candidates interact with the rest of the team during the interview and I look for a good personality. Don’t get me wrong, past experience, grades and all of the other traditional variables are important, but capabilities can be taught and developed. What cannot be taught is the emotional intelligence that will make someone a great team member. It is trite to say, but people who are pleasant to be around and have great personalities are more likely to receive help when they need it, they are more likely to develop strong relationships with co-workers, clients and fellow professionals, they are more likely to gain the trust from the business team and also the respect from the counsel on the other side of the file. We are a small profession and having a good reputation and being liked is a critical component of success.
This takes me back to the concept of the “T-Shaped” or as I like to call it, the “+ shaped, value added” lawyer. In my previous article, I wrote that “a successful lawyer in the 21st century. . . needs to possess critical interpersonal skills, empathy skills and they need to value diversity and inclusiveness.” These skillsets were clearly present amongst the colleagues surrounding me at the CGCA dinner and ceremony. Even my colleague, Atrisha Lewis, in her article the Top 10 Habits of a Leading Litigator, identifies some of the most important traits for a litigator as: being able to build relationships, act civilly and “be happy, enjoy what you do and stick with it.” These are also important elements of what makes someone a nice guy or girl to work with and what I would argue makes one a great lawyer and litigator. As a point of clarification, this does not mean that the lawyer should not vigorously defend or advance their client’s case, this is more about the way a lawyer chooses to do this. It is possible to take a strong position, but he/she should do so with candour, integrity and class.
I look forward to seeing you all at next year’s CGCA and the Innovatio awards ceremony this September. While you are there, do me a favour and look around the room. Find the successful lawyers, the lawyers that you would want as a mentor and the ones whose careers you want to emulate — chances are, they are a nice guy or gal who has and will always finish first!