When building a practice, especially early on, it can be very easy to focus on yourself. Money may be tough to come by. Good cases may be even harder to come by. And you may be like me, who decided it was smart to start our firm with no clients, no client leads, and two kids under two years old at home (and then seek to multiply that number).
Focus on self-development throughout your career as a trial lawyer is important, indeed, essential, so you can advise your clients and win for them. But our focus in the end must be on our clients. There actually are some very special things about being a trial lawyer. One thing is something we share with other lawyers: the attorney-client relationship is important, and we owe duties of loyalty and devotion to our clients.
As a trial lawyer, this can be harder because many of our matters can be one-offs. That is, we may represent an individual or business in one litigation, and then literally never hear from them again. We are not like, say, a real estate transactional lawyer who, depending on where he or she practices, may cultivate a relationship with a builder or developer and then do work over and over again for that developer. It’s a bit easier under those circumstances truly to develop a relationship.
So, it may not be as easy for us to cultivate a relationship, but it remains important. Indeed, with respect to our transactional brethren, I think it’s more important: we often are stewarding our clients through one of the toughest experiences of their lives. I sit as a small claims court arbitrator and hear matters where the amount in controversy is never more than $10,000. I promise you that those cases matter hugely to the parties involved. Just about any trial matter is a big deal to the parties involved, so their lawyers must cultivate a relationship of respect and loyalty with those clients.
The best trial lawyers should learn to be better fighters over time. And almost all of us need to hustle to get clients. But we must always remember that we are supposed to cultivate our special relationships with our clients.
John Balestriere is an entrepreneurial trial lawyer who founded his firm after working as a prosecutor and litigator at a small firm. He is a partner at trial and investigations law firm Balestriere Fariello in New York, where he and his colleagues represent domestic and international clients in litigation, arbitration, appeals, and investigations. You can reach him by email at [email protected].