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It’s better to be nice than right

It’s better to be nice than right

Lately I’ve been traveling the country to meet with attorneys who have been selected to the Super Lawyers list. I’ve assembled an advisory board, which will be announced in the near future, of lawyers from all firm sizes who are perennially on a Super Lawyers top list in their states. There is something universal about these highly successful and effective practitioners. They are nice. And engaging. And responsive. Our editorial team has found that “the bigger the wig the more gracious they are.” Indeed, one attorney told me of a plaque that he keeps on his desk that reads, “It’s better to be nice than right.” Of course he can say that because he usually wins, but by all outward accounts these are not just words but a way of life.

On the shelf in my office is a copy of Joseph Goulden’s 1972 book The SuperLawyers, The Small and Powerful World of the Great Washington Law Firms. In the prologue, Goulden shares his story about trying to secure an interview with Clark Clifford, counsel to four presidents, who was then at the height of his career. Goulden had sent Clifford a letter and had not heard back when the phone rang:

“The voice of instant warmth–resonant, with a halting deliberativeness that gave you time to digest what was said, but not enough to interrupt…’This is Clark Clifford,’ the voice said. It continued. ‘What a wonderful idea for a book, and I’m glad someone is doing it, and I’m certainly looking forward to reading it when it is published. And you certainly show an understanding of the problems a lawyer faces when he talks for publication. Now, you want to come in this week, but I’m afraid this week is about over, isn’t it, and I have to go down to Texas tomorrow for the dedication of President Johnson’s library. Now, if it isn’t absolutely essential that you see me this week, I wonder if I could ask you to put off our interview until very early next week? Would I be troubling you too much to ask you to drop around late on Monday afternoon, say 5 o’clock or so? I can give you more time then, because it’s late in the day, and we won’t be interrupted.’

“An hour or so later the realization swept over me, and I stopped whatever I was doing and thought about it … this is how Clark Clifford does it.”

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