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A Life in the Law

The Most Important Thing About Being a Less-Than-Full-Time Lawyer

By Susan Cohodes

Regular readers of this column will recall that I have had a little trouble breaking up with my full-time law practice. After six months, I have come to realize that it was not the practice of law that was the issue; it was me. I caused the breakup. With that realization, I am ready to be friends with my new role as less than a full-time lawyer.

less than a full-time lawyer

Failing to Meet Expectations

I had grown weary of clients who forgot to say “thank you” when their cases were resolved and even more tired of those who complained about the outcome to which they had agreed when it came time for them to sign closing paperwork, collect a check and call it done. I found it increasingly irritating since most closing meetings took place in the evening or on a weekend at a location near the client’s home and far from mine.

I have come to understand that the problem was not with them, it was with me.

I had clearly lost the ability to react properly to clients’ failure to live up to my expectations of gratitude or, at the very least, common courtesy.

An Epiphany

Regular readers will also recall that I had the privilege of reading with a first-grader named Henry once I had more free time. Henry never said “thank you” either, and once or twice, he complained when we had to do our work before we got to read Captain Underpants. (In his defense, he’s only six years old and it was Captain Underpants, after all). But it didn’t matter. I certainly never got tired of working with him and may have cried a little in my car as I left school after our last session. I called dibs on working with him next year if he is back at the same school, and I can’t wait.

And, though he never said thank you, on our last day, when he had to finish the sentence, “My tutor, Miss Susan, is blank and blank,” he said, “fun” and “nice,” and that was good enough for me.

In addition to a little cry on my way home, I had an epiphany.

I had become so focused on what clients weren’t doing that I lost track of what I was doing. And with that, I had lost my ability to find satisfaction in what I did.

Thanks to Henry, however, I have again found the ability to refocus. Just like in my work with Henry, I know the work I do is good, and my clients are well represented — no matter what they say or don’t say. 

Many of those clients who forgot to thank me have stayed in touch and consider me their personal law librarian. Surely, if they thought my work was subpar, they wouldn’t call me with questions … all the time. Many of them have also referred friends and relatives, which must be a sign they were satisfied with my work. They might not have completed the sentence, “My lawyer Susan is blank and blank” with “fun and nice,” but their continuing contact and referrals lead me to conclude that they might have said “competent and caring.”

The Best Reward: Doing Good Work for Clients

But it no longer matters as much to me what they think, because I know the work I did was good.

I now realize the important thing is that I was always satisfied with that work. I learned this from Henry because, although he didn’t say the words “thank you,” I knew the work he and I had done was good and important and that we had made progress.

With this new realization in hand, I am moving forward as a less-than-full-time attorney with a new zeal for my practice. I know I do good work and get optimal results for my clients, and moving forward, that will be enough.

My reward for doing great work for a client will be having done great work for a client. If they fail to tell me how grateful they are or worse, complain about that work, well, that’s on them, not me.

happy lawyer, smile face in hands
Read Susan Cohodes’ article, “An Antidote to Ungrateful Clients” (Image © iStockPhoto.com)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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Susan Cohodes Susan Cohodes

Susan Cohodes is a trial attorney who practiced for more than 35 years, first in Chicago and for the last 31 years in Seattle. Susan has spent her entire career fighting for injured clients. In 2024, Susan became Of Counsel to her firm and is now pursuing her passions of knitting, writing — and following her beloved Green Bay Packers around the country.

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