The Practice of Law: A Life Lesson that Changed Everything
As a young law student in the early nineties, I used to think that lawyers were in the business of practicing law. I assumed if a lawyer knew the law and could argue a case in front of a jury, he or she was destined to be a successful attorney. I studied day and night my first year of law school, oblivious to the fact that knowledge of the law would play a relatively minor role in determining how successful I would be in the future. Surprisingly, my biggest success lesson came when I landed my first job as a law clerk at Eubanks & Barrett.
When I first started at Eubanks & Barrett, I was given a case load. My job was to stay in contact with the clients, make sure they were receiving the appropriate medical treatment, and prepare settlement demand letters when the client reached maximum medical improvement. The firm’s owners at the time would handle any client relations that required legal advice, review and revise my demand letters, negotiate settlements, and litigate cases. I would basically do the grunt work.
One day, I was standing near the receptionist’s area when Vinse Barrett (my future law partner) noticed there were a few phone messages in my in-box. He pulled the phone messages out and reviewed them. These were messages from clients who had called several days earlier. To Vinse’s obvious displeasure, I hadn’t yet returned their phone calls. I could see the blood rushing into his face. His chest puffed out, and he looked at me with eyes that could melt an iceberg. In his deep southern voice, he bellowed, “This is a service business.” That’s all he had to say.
I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned that day.
Practicing law is about serving people. Great lawyers are not necessarily the best orators, or the best legal scholars. Great lawyers are the ones who care about their clients and show how much they care through the service they provide.
Starting with Vinse Barrett and Silas Eubanks, the partners of this firm have built this practice on one main value that can be summed up in Vinse’s admonition to me as a young law clerk. Those words echo throughout the building where I sit right now and permeate every decision we make, every firm meeting, every partner meeting, and every discussion we have about every case. “This is a service business.”