Core Competencies: Affiliation and Association

The current series explores the importance of soft skills and the development of core competencies involved in decision-making and effective client representation, including the science and the nuts and bolts of lawyer wellness, competency and contentment. This column speaks to the benefits of affiliation, association and engagement with your peers in the legal community.

To learn more, feel free to download my latest Effective Lawyer column published in the Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. 

If you are interested in receiving PDF’s of any of the others in the series listed here, please email me at robertcreo@happyeffectivelawyer.org.

Balancing Work and Wellness with the Pennsylvania Bar Institute

Robert A. Creo, Esq., mediator, arbitrator, and educator, and principal of Happy Effective Lawyer, recently had his materials included in an innovative CLE program provided by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute (PBI) in Philadelphia. 

The program was organized by practitioners Ellen D. Bailey, Esq., Deputy General Counsel, Stockton University Office of General Counsel, Anastasia B. Wohar, Esq., and law firm Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller.

It consisted of classroom CLE presentations, followed by time spent putting theory into action with exercising in the gym. It was very well-received by participants.

Robert’s contributions included two E-books on the subjects of exercise and stress, which can be downloaded as free PDFs.

The Relational Mindset in Law: An Example in Practice

Recently, I read and reviewed Stewart Levine’s book, entitled The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness.

In the afterword of the book, Stewart and contributor Louise Phipps Senft, Esq., focus on what it means to practice in a “relational” rather than “transactional” manner. 

They urge readers to “take time to read, contemplate, and consider how others’ voices and discern how their expertise affects your thinking and moves you to act in ways that are good for you.”

Like me, many of you may already be following the Relational Mindset or other healthy habits and practices without having unpacked why in detail. I personally have always aimed to translate and apply the Relational Mindset in practice with colleagues and adversaries on a platform of civility and collegiality.

As an example, when I was a young lawyer practicing from a storefront office, I handled small civil matters for working class clientele. At this time, there were a handful of lawyers in the Pittsburgh legal scene that had the reputations of being underhanded and unethical. However, I rejected the current legal trend towards Rambo tactics. I tried to work with every opposing counsel and claim adjuster in a cooperative, respectful, and transparent manner. After receiving a few brushback tactics, I resisted the tit-for-tat and handled the tensions with what I hoped was grace and understanding. It worked. I got along well with these notorious lawyers by applying what I now know as a Relational Mindset.

Another attorney in the area had an office in the next neighborhood over, and from the first case, I knew that we would cross paths often. I did what I could to further a positive relationship while not compromising the interests of my clients. I do believe that I achieved better results with my clients by taking the high road. I recall sitting in the lawyer’s office one day and he said something to the effect of, “well, you have always been a straight shooter with me and never nasty, so we can skip the fighting since it won’t be any fun for me. Let’s make the following fair deal now rather than later.”

With a few minor revisions, we made the deal, and I sincerely thanked him as I shook his hand to leave. Because I utilized the Relational Mindset in my approach with him, and he eventually met me halfway, we were able to work together productively and achieve a favorable outcome for each of our clients.

I highly recommend that you read Stewart’s book and consider the areas where you can apply the Relational Mindset to your own practice of law!

Source: Stewart L. Levine, The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness

Book Review: The Best Lawyer You Can Be

Stewart L. Levine (left) and Robert A. Creo (right) at Stewart's June 2019 Workshop

This June, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop in Maryland presented by Stewart L. Levine highlighting key themes from his 2018 book, The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness. Stewart is the editor and curator of the book, which was published by the American Bar Association’s Law Division Practice. His excellent presentation sold me on ordering the book, which was delivered to me in a few days for a total cost of under $40. The book can be ordered as a paperback or e-book on the American Bar Association website, or as a paperback for a few more dollars on Amazon. It is money well spent!

The book is 288 pages long and it is organized into 27 chapters, with an afterword by my longtime colleague and friend, Louise Phipps Senft, Esq. of Baltimore. Prominent professors, lawyers, commentators, and practitioners address a variety of aspects of wellness and of being a lawyer from a 360-degree perspective.

This is not a book about how to win more cases or how to improve specific technical or soft skills. However, social science research indicates that if certain habits and best practices surrounding wellness are integrated into a lawyer’s daily life, then he or she can more effectively represent their clients.

The book is subdivided into three parts: Self-Awareness; Self-Management; and Engagement.

Some of the contributors for the Self-Awareness section of Stewart’s book include Elizabeth Bader, Professor Nathalie Martin, Anne Brafford, Esq., Mapp, and Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP. These chapters cover subjects such as mindfulness, spirituality, teamwork, and lawyer wellness.

The Self-Management section of the book addresses some of the business aspects of working as a lawyer. Chapters include contributions by Rachelle J. Canter, PhD., Edward Poll, JD, MBA, CMC, Eva Selhub, MD, and Martha Knudson, JD, MAPP.

There are ten chapters in the final Engagement part of the book. These chapters cover subjects like volunteerism, pro bono legal work, and diversity and inclusions initiatives. They include contributions by Dean Joan R. M. Bullock, Julia LaEace, Esq., William Gibson, Esq., and Linda Alvarez, Esq., among others.

An example of the content that you might expect to find in the book is in Chapter 1 by Larry Krieger, who has studied the well-being of lawyers extensively. He conducted a recent in-depth survey of over 6000 lawyers, which concluded that the usual markers of success—money, status, and outperforming others, did not consistently produce happy lawyers. Attorney income ranked 7th after autonomy, relatedness, competence, internal motivation, autonomy support, and intrinsic values. Human factors, rather than traditional concepts of success, have been shown to drive happiness. Similar findings have resulted from numerous other researchers and attorneys, including Randall Kiser.

The afterword of The Best Lawyer You Can Be, which explores the Relational Mindset, is also an excellent read. I’ll be exploring this mindset further with an example from my own practice in my next blog post, so stay tuned.

Stewart Levine’s book may indeed help you become the best lawyer that you can be, as it provides invaluable wisdom from some of the sharpest minds in the legal world, confirmation and refinement of best practices, and advice and tactics to enhance your professional and personal development.

Sources: 

Stewart L. Levine, The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness

Best Practices for Communication

The most effective communication involves connecting with people on a rational, emotional, and moral basis. Aristotle referred to these three pillars as logos, pathos, and ethos. Humanity has come a long way since Greek times on the many ways we communicate with and influence others. With the advent of technology, it is easy to dehumanize, and truncate not only our message, but the way it is delivered. When people are together, the richness of communication modalities are obvious, as all our senses are potentially engaged—see me, hear me, feel me, smell me, touch me, and some would say, sense or intuit me. 

People in the influencing and persuasion business, especially lawyers, must not only be competent across these modalities, but more importantly, must deliberately choose the best ways to interact with clients and opponents to solve problems. Some lawyers enjoy the competition and gamesmanship of confrontation. Many of us do not, and most of us have at one time or another ducked a potentially unpleasant conversation with letters, emails, or texts. 

Technology has made us somewhat lazy…we use tools that are convenient and easy. Technology, especially email, allows us to avoid unpleasant conversations, or even allows us at time to be more direct and unpleasant. Emails and texts are great ways to engage the disagreeable and pass the proverbial “hot potato” literally at the speed of light. “I sent an email” can be the ultimate shortcut to CYA (Cover Your Ass) or abdication of professionalism with its express or implicit “it’s not my fault!”

My practice tips can be summarized in an obvious hierarchy of preferred communication choices, although the order may vary as it is adopted to specific relationships or circumstances. Personalized contact is prioritized as the fundamental objective, however. 

My communication hierarchy, which honors the speaker being “in” as much as possible, is as follows:

            In person meeting or activity 

            Live Video, Skype, Facetime

            Telephone

            Intermediary-Envoy

            Handwritten Letter

            Photo or other video, audio message

            Email

            Text

As corny as it sounds, there is value in looking people in the eye, pressing flesh, and breaking bread together. It reminds me of the old United Airlines commercial where the company owner enters the meeting to pass out airline tickets to his employees, concerned that they have lost touch with their clients.

Recent scientific research has examined the role of Oxycontin as a chemical that is transferred by touch that promotes trust. I participated in two workshops with Professor Paul Zak, a leading researcher in this area, and came away convinced that we have underestimated the power of touch to build rapport, trust, community, and to aide in the resolution of conflict.

Many lawyers also have come to the conclusion that my lifelong friend, Gregg Rosen of McGuireWoods, expressed as advice for effective representation— deliver to your client the bad news as quickly, and personally, as possible.

No lawyer will finish a career without “losing” a case, position, or transaction, failing to solve a problem or obtaining a suboptimal result. It is in the nature of the business we have chosen. Don’t hide behind technology to avoid what is part and parcel of our work. Choose carefully and wisely the “how” of sharing your message by working from the top of the hierarchy downward!

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