Lawyers and the “Permission to Play” Distinction: 4 Key Questions to Help you Move Beyond the Minimum and Hire the Right Counsel

Recently I attended a networking event where lawyers from all over the country enjoyed valuable face-to-face time with their dream clients.

Major players like Disney, Walmart, and General Motors were in attendance. As I wove my way through a sea of lawyers making their pitches, there was an unmistakable pattern in the way that they talked about themselves.

  • “I’d describe myself as smart and hard-working.”
  • “I’m highly ethical!”
  • “Above all, I’ll be loyal.”

I was struck by the rote and simplistic nature of these statements. Why was everybody saying the same thing? Not to say these attributes are unimportant, but the rules of professional responsibility require lawyers to be zealous advocates with the highest ethical standards who remain loyal to their client. These are minimum standards that are merely the price of admission into the legal game. Patrick Lencioni calls these types of standards “permission to play” values, as distinguished from those which are “core” to that lawyer.

As a client looking to hire counsel to serve your company and enable and accelerate your strategy, you deserve to know whether your counsel’s values align with your own. Your selection of a lawyer to represent your organization needs to consider those values and qualities that set them apart from all the other lawyers and align with you. Those core values are the deeply held and ingrained beliefs that guide one’s actions, especially when those values are tested. These values are inherent, not invented–and are sacrosanct, even if it results in loss of the business.

If you have ever found yourself tuning out during a law firm pitch and wondering why they all sound the same, it is because they do! Here are four questions you can ask to help you get to the core values held by your counsel and whether they fit with those of your organization:

  1. What are three key deeply held beliefs that your firm holds inviolate?
  2. Would you continue to hold these values even if they became a competitive disadvantage?
  3. Do you know the core values of our organization?
  4. How do your firm’s values align with those of our organization? Give me an example of these values in action?

Chances are, the lawyers in the room will not be able to answer all of these questions. Nevertheless, the answers will reveal a lot about them and their deeply held beliefs. It will help define the guiding behaviors of your ongoing relationship beyond their permission to play values. Being smart, hardworking, and loyal are just the basic building blocks necessary to gain entry to this profession–not the ones that will enable a true business partnership.

Once you are satisfied that a lawyer possesses both permission to play and core values that align with yours, they will be a worthy representative of your company.

Because of the close relationships Mischa Boardman has with her clients, she works even harder to deliver the best possible results in the commercial litigation, eminent domain, appellate, and commercial landlord-tenant matters she handles.