I remember how frustrated I was my first year of law school when I was, for the first time in my life, not in the top of the class.
I couldn't believe it. I wasn't just not in the top. I was near the bottom.
Did I all of a sudden get stupid? No, I still believe my intellect has not shrunk since beginning law school. Dumb people don't go to law school...often (statistically speaking...I still believe a few squeak by unnoticed, and sometimes even graduate!)
My priorities were different, and this was a whole different world to me. First year everything was new. I wasn't a fifth generation lawyer....I didn't actually know any lawyers when I started. I had to learn the very basics. I'd never seen a pleading before in my life. I remember pointing out to a friend how incredibly dumb it was to put "(" all down the middle half of the page to divide a header of a pleading. I asked her why we didn't just make a line...it made no sense. She laughed, said that's how it is done...and we moved on. The first of many times I had to accept that sometimes lawyers do things just because that is how it's done...and you don't change it.
Eventually I graduated. Still not at the top of my class. I moved up quite a bit, but still never put the extreme studying time into my classes that many of my peers did. I did other things. I started and sucessfully ran two businesses, spent invaluable time with my family, and most importantly my grandfather who passed away during my 2nd year. I didn't put my life on hold to become a bookworm. There were many....MANY jobs that wouldn't even look at me because I didn't have the highest rankings. Frankly, I wouldn't have been a good fit with many of them, because personality and ability to relate to clients was not something they considered.
In the end, I found a great firm with a great fit for me.
Still, for some reason, class rank is still important to people. I don't understand it, and I never will. Law school is on a curve, and there will always be 50% of attorneys that were in the bottom half of their class.
My transcript makes me a statistic, but my experience makes me an attorney.
What makes me a good attorney?
Listen and Understand Your Client. To me, this is number one. You can't fix their problems if you don't understand what is going on. I see so many attorneys just talk and talk and talk until their client gets so confused that they just stop asking questions. They want to show off how smart they are. They won't ever admit they don't have the answer.
Always Learn. I'm in general practice, I learn 20 new things every day. I'm finally to the point where some of that stuff I've learned comes back to help me later on. This field is complex and always changing....you have to keep learning.
Organized. Nothing is worse than a deadline sneaking up on you. 99% of what you do as an attorney can be planned and prepared a head of time. Stay organized.
Communicate. After you listen to your client, communicate with them. I email/call clients constantly. I want them to know they need to tell me about their case. Especially with family law, I need to know about changes or any big events that occur during the case.
Work Hard. If you're not willing to be in the effort, this isn't you career. You need to be a strong advocate for your client, and be willing to work.
If you graduated from law school, you know the rest. You know how to research, draft pleadings, make legal arguments. You can legally represent someone in court, and call yourself an attorney. However, a good attorney isn't a statistic.