I sat across the desk from the senior partner and chair of the real estate department at one of the largest law firms in the country as my interview drew to a close. Our conversation had gone well so far, and I was cautiously optimistic about my chances of receiving an offer as a lateral associate. It was then that the partner asked me just one more question . . .

“If I were to pick up the phone right now and call the head of the real estate department at your current firm, what would he say about you?” the interviewer asked me, motioning toward the telephone.

Pregnant pause.

It wasn’t an idle question and I knew it. Matt, the interviewer, mentioned my current boss by name –as a titan among real estate lawyers, everyone knew who he was even if they didn’t know him personally and his reputation, as a brilliant lawyer, prolific rainmaker and harsh critic of incompetence, preceded him. He would be more than happy to share his opinion.

Fortunately, my boss at the time was a fan of mine, so I was able to think quickly and answer the question honestly, even drawing an appreciative chuckle from Matt. Within 24 hours, I had a generous offer from the firm.

Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Ask You the Question

Matt’s question has stayed with me all these years later and it’s one I’ve asked myself over and over again, whether in reference to a supervising attorney or, now that I am a partner in a professional development services firm, the clients I serve.

I recommend that you do the same – “If my boss or client were to honestly share what she thinks about me in each of the following categories, what would she say?”

  • Legal skills
  • Client communication and service
  • Character, integrity and reliability
  • Leadership ability
  • Willingness to work as part of a team
  • Attitude and demeanor
  • How I treat clients, colleagues, administrators and staff
  • Ability to generate client business (if you’re with a private firm)

Honestly Answer the Question and Reap the Benefits

Be honest with yourself. This exercise is not designed to make you feel bad about yourself if there’s something that you could improve, but there’s no point in posing the question if you’re going to delude yourself in order to avoid discomfort.

There are huge benefits to posing this question to yourself periodically. As an attorney, your reputation is everything – you are the only one who can improve your performance or rectify a problem, so it’s imperative that you clearly see yourself through the eyes of those with whom you work.

You probably have a pretty good idea of how you are perceived in each of the categories I listed, but if you truly don’t know, find out by asking for feedback from those around you. If you ask sincerely, stress that you really want the truth, and remember not to “shoot the messenger,” you will likely receive a wealth of information that will enable you to stay on track or, if need be, get back on the path to success.

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