When a Good Lawyer is Like a Great Ball Player
By Connor Cameron, Law Student | June 23, 2021
When you think of the greatest baseball players of all time, names like Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth may come to mind. Although one part of their game may stand out above the others for you, their overall greatness is a product of their excelling in each of what baseball analysts call the “five tools.” These five tools are contact, power, speed, fielding, and throwing. Now it is rare for someone to possess all five tools. It isn’t even necessary for a player to possess all to make the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but the truly great players have possessed all five of the tools at some point in their career.
Because I am an avid baseball fan, the “five tools of a good lawyer” concept came up one day after my Practice Placement supervisor, who shares my love of baseball – and for cracking jokes – and I were talking about how a bright new associate at my supervisor’s firm could be deemed a “five-tool lawyer.” Since then, the joke has routinely had us thinking, “what are the five tools that would make a lawyer truly exceptional?”
These five tools I’ve chosen are based upon asking myself what traits I would want my lawyer to have, if I had to hire one. However, just like a major league baseball player, a lawyer certainly does not need to possess all of these traits to be a good lawyer, or to be someone worth trusting with your case.
Tool #1: Ability to Simultaneously Consider Both the “Big Picture” and “Small Picture”
Practising law is difficult. One part of this difficulty is consistently balancing the competing “Big Picture” and “Small Picture” issues. Much like patting your head and rubbing your belly, this balancing requires a good lawyer to think about two vastly different concerns at the same time. It requires them to understand the facts of their client’s case and then apply those facts to singular and discrete legal issues while also balancing them with what the client is ultimately hoping to achieve. After all, there is no point in making a brilliant opening statement if, at the end of the day, you don’t have the evidence to support the case.
Another example of this is the balancing of what I’d call “flashy lawyering behaviour” and what is most efficient for the client. Examples of this behaviour include costing the client more than is being saved, or pursuing a particular course of action when there is a more efficient and less costly option available. This isn’t to say there isn’t a time to take a more expensive path or to write that five-page letter when a phone call would suffice; it’s simply to say that a five-tool lawyer is constantly considering how these small issues fit into the overall progress and completion of their client’s case – the big picture.
Tool #2: Possessing a Variety of Different Law-Based Skills
There are a variety of different law-based skills that a lawyer must possess to be considered a good lawyer. Much like how hitting for contact is made up of a variety of different sub-skills (including seeing and following the pitch, making solid contact between the bat and ball and being able to hit the ball somewhere where the defending players aren’t positioned), being a good lawyer also has sub-skills. The sub-skills required to be a good lawyer include knowledge of the substantive law, effective and efficient research skills, effective advocacy – both orally and in writing, being analytical in approach, and understanding both the strategy and tactics required to successfully resolve a matter in the client’s best interests.
Tool #3: Fostering Client Connection
I believe the practice of law is ultimately one that is based on client service. While previous tools focused on the lawyer’s ability to obtain results for their clients, this tool focuses on the manner in which the client and the lawyer interact with one another. This is important because these are the practices that will give a lawyer the best chance of making the client feel connected to their lawyer, cared for and important. This will increase the chances that the client is ultimately happy with the services they are paying for, even if their case is unsuccessful or only partially successful.
Fostering client connection is really based upon being consistent and approachable. A good lawyer will always keep their client up to date regarding the progress of their case. They will be quick at responding to their clients and they will be willing to spend the necessary time to simplify and explain complicated legal concepts in a manner that their clients can understand. They will be honest and open, and they will make it clear that they are equally as happy to listen as they are to talk.
Tool #4: Awareness of Their Role in the Legal System
Legal systems are complicated. To function correctly they require the constant balancing of competing interests, while simultaneously maintaining fairness and access to justice. From the clients who are engaged in the system, to the court staff who do their best to make sure that it runs efficiently and the judges who are responsible for making final rulings, everyone has their part to play and it is important that they recognize their roles and try to fit into the system well. Lawyers are no exception to this. Lawyers have obligations not only to their clients, but to their profession as well.
Beginning with a lawyer’s obligation to their client, a good lawyer must always respect the role he or she is there to play. A lawyer is responsible for providing a client with advice regarding the law and their potential legal options, and to be an advocate for the client – but not (for the most part) to make decisions for them. Unfortunately, this will mean that a lawyer will, at times, have to be honest about the limitations of what they or the legal system in general can achieve for the client. They will have to be frank regarding the likelihood of the client getting what they want, even if they are successful in court.
This obligation to a client also extends to a lawyer being aware of their area of knowledge and expertise and then respecting the limits of that expertise. It is not exaggeration to say that people’s lives and livelihoods can depend on the outcome of a lawyer’s legal representation. With this in mind, a lawyer who only knows family law should not be giving real estate advice unless they have experience in that area of law.
Turning to obligations towards the profession, lawyers must conduct themselves ethically and with integrity. This means acting in a manner that is professional and courteous. Simply put, a good lawyer is one who should care about constantly building their reputation; not through gimmicks or publicity, but through always dealing with their clients and other professionals in a way that they would feel proud should someone they care about see their actions.
Tool #5: Experience Both as a Lawyer and With the Local System
As the saying goes, it takes 10,000 hours to master any job or skill. Being a lawyer is no different. Now, this isn’t to say that you need a senior-level lawyer to represent you in a matter. However, there are certain skills and strategies that come with being a more experienced lawyer. This can include knowing such information as court deadlines and notice periods off the top of your head. It also includes experience as an advocate and knowing when to and when not to push different legal issues. All of these can tend towards an overall better experience for the client.
The concept of experience also extends to the lawyer’s experience within the local community where they practise. When a lawyer becomes more experienced, they will know the strengths and weaknesses of the various opposing counsel they work with/against. This will mean that they can tailor their legal arguments with this mind, thereby increasing the strength of their arguments. The same is true for knowing a particular judge’s likes and dislikes. When a lawyer knows this, they will know how to approach different arguments, again, improving their chances of success.
While all five of these traits may not be as easily quantifiable as a baseball player’s ability to hit, field, throw and run, they do, at least in my opinion, speak to a person’s overall abilities as a lawyer. They represent the various skills that I would look for in a lawyer, and they are the skills and qualities that I hope to employ – and continue to develop over time – once I begin my career as a lawyer.
If you have a family law matter that needs attention, please visit us at hendersonfamilylaw.ca to learn more about our approach and our lawyers. Or, contact us at 807-344-2400 or 1-800-488-1182.
This content is provided as a general informational source by Henderson Family Law, and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, or establish a lawyer-client relationship. Every situation is complex and fact-specific, and appropriate advice will vary accordingly. Do not rely on this information for legal decision-making under any circumstances. Please consult with us and obtain proper advice and strategy concerning the specifics of your particular situation.