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Ten Traits of Top Attorneys

Michigan Super Lawyers recently recognized me as a top rated business litigation attorney, and I thank my peers for the nomination. Honestly, I’m not certain what it takes to be a Super Lawyer. But the award did make me wonder -- what does it take to be a super attorney? I’ve been fortunate to work with, and against, many great attorneys in my 13-year career and I’ve found that they usually share the same traits. Here’s a summary of my observations.

1. Experience: I’ve heard some attorneys say you won’t know what you’re doing until you’ve been in practice for 5 years. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but I do agree that there’s no substitute for experience. Knowing the law, judges, opposing counsel, and local customs make the practice of law easier (and more enjoyable). It will also boost your confidence, and I’ve never met a great attorney who wasn’t confident.

2. Creative: Clients come to attorneys when a problem needs to be solved. Many attorneys are smart, but the best attorneys are creative. They look at problems from many different angles, and continually consider the big picture as the matter progresses.

3. Writing and Speaking: The best attorneys know how to speak to their audience, be it a judge, jury, or opposing counsel. Often times, attorneys must communicate in writing (e.g., briefs) and other times they rely on oral advocacy (e.g., hearings or trial). Both are essential, especially in litigation. The best attorneys excel at both.

4. Communication: Great attorneys know how to listen. They know how and when to talk to clients. They timely respond to emails. They ask for feedback and make sure the client is up to speed. The best attorneys seldom receive emails from clients asking for an update.

5. Compassion: Attorneys can have all of the above attributes, but if they don’t truly care about their clients or the law, they will not be great. The best attorneys are compassionate. They care about the clients’ problems and want to resolve them, irrespective of any fee that might be earned.

Other traits of great attorneys include (6) attention to detail, (7) organization, (8) volunteer or pro bono work, (9) active in the community, and (10) contributions to the legal community.

In preparing this list, the attorney I thought of the most was my father, Peter M. Doerr ( In seventh grade, I wrote an article about why I wanted to be an attorney -- to make money. My dad disapproved and said you become an attorney to help people solve problems. That is when I first started learning about the importance of compassion. Thanks again, Dad, you’re a true super attorney.

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