Last night, John and I had the good fortune to be invited by our lovely neighbors, Jim and Anna White, to the James P. White Lecture on Legal Education at the Indiana University School of Law on the IUPUI campus in Indianapolis.  This lecture series brings in those important to the law and legal profession in the United States as Professor White was, and still is, instrumental to the formation of legal education around the world.  As Robert A. Stein, Executive Director of the ABA commented, “Jim White is more responsible and deserves more credit than any other person for the high quality of legal education in the United States.”

Our distinguished speaker last night was Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.  The crowd was welcoming and warm to him, not only because he, like all the Justices, is in the midst of important, historic, and selfless public service to the citizens of this country, but also because he grew up in Northwest Indiana.  We’re a humble state, but we are immensely proud of our own.  He is no exception.

The first half hour of our time with him was as students and teacher.  He gave us an interesting history lesson of the Supreme Court of the United States, how they interacted with their President at the time, and what decisions were important to their Court.  Mr. Chief Justice used Powerpoint to show photos of the different courts.  Seeing photos of the Justices, as well as the Presidents during whose term they served, was an interesting addition to his lecture.

The Q & A period was the best part of the night because his personality, thought process, humor and insight came through loud and clear.  He is a humble man, but strong in his conviction that Justices are to be umpires, not players on either side of the game.

One point that stuck with me was when he talked about very few people being able to recite the names of the former Chief Justices throughout history.  During his charming introduction of Chief Justice Roberts, Indianapolis IU School of Law Dean Gary R. Roberts even admitted he could not.  Justice Roberts modestly, but with humor, told everyone this was a good lesson for a Chief Justice to remember.  Everyone laughed, and understood his point with no more explanation needed by him.  They won’t remember, and that’s okay.

This made me think about those of us who do what we do to serve others.  No, I would never compare myself in importance to Chief Justice Roberts, but I can compare what he said to all who serve clients as a way of life.  It is probably true that our clients’ children, employees or successors will not remember our names long after we are gone, but that doesn’t matter.   It is rare when you and I will have court cases named after us, marketing, business planning or social media applications that carry our names, or buildings that bear our name so that we might be fondly remembered.  This does not matter at all.  They won’t remember, and that’s okay.

Why doesn’t this matter?

Because what is most important is what we actually do for our clients at the very moment we are doing it, without lofty goals of making a name for ourselves, or looking forward to adulation because of important people noticing what we did after the fact.

What matters most is that our clients understand, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are completely present for them, that we care passionately about their business, what happens to them, that we are there to protect them, understand them, and that we have their best interest at heart when we are with them, and even when we are not.

We owe them….

  • We owe it to our clients to treat them as the special, important human beings they are, without the expectation of being recognized by them as being somehow special because of our credentials, reputation, our degree, who we know, or the size of our firm or client list.
  • We owe it to them to turn our phones off when we’re together.
  • We owe it to them to help them understand what is going on at every stage of our relationship, even when we have no important news to tell.
  • We owe it to them to give them news, whether good or not-so-good, in a timely manner.
  • We owe it to them to say thank you to them whenever possible.
  • We owe it to them to give them the feeling that we have their backs, that they can trust us to watch over them to the best of our ability.

I’d like to thank Chief Justice Roberts for his slight, subtle bit of humor about not being remembered last night, and for reminding, and inspiring, me to share these thoughts with you.

Do you have examples to add to my list that show how we can be memorable to our clients at the moment we are serving them?  If so, please add them below.

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  • What a great post, Nancy – and a great lesson for us all. It’s not about the accolades, it’s about truly helping people and doing the right thing, whatever that may be.

  • Thanks Lindsay. It was a subtle, but great message that he shared.

  • Deb Dobson

    This is a great post Nancy and very important messages for us to remember. It is truly all about helping people and doing the right thing, no matter how difficult that might be at times. Great reminder for us all.

  • So, beyond all of the technological and process aspects of doing business, it all comes down to relationships. Nancy, your post reminds me of the title of chapter 3 in Susan Scott’s great “Fierce Conversations.” A great read, if you haven’t gotten to it yet. The chapter title? “Be Here, Be Prepared to Be Nowhere Else.” Wonder how you got to the Chief? I hang around DC all day every day, and I’ve never laid eyes on him!

  • One of the first things our director of marketing taught me when I started was that we plant the seeds of thought so that it becomes our clients’ (attorneys) ideas. It’s the thought or idea we want them to remember — not us. Being young, that was hard to understand at first. But seeing this idea implemented, you realize that it can’t be any other way.

    I was lucky enough to have not ONE but TWO of those moments yesterday where all of that “work” (sowing!) we’ve been doing finally clicked! Most of the time, what we do… it’s a thankless job. But if 1 out of 100 “get it,” all of that other work is well worth it.

  • Thanks Deb. If not for helping people at the time of their need, what are we doing to make a real difference?

  • Thanks Steve! I would like to read that book, and look forward to reading all of it, but especially Chapter 3. If the lecture series hadn’t invited him to IU, I certainly wouldn’t have come near him. You might find it interesting that he was next door to our house the night before, as he was at the White’s having dinner! It was interesting to see the Security detail pacing their driveway right outside our window! Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment!

  • Thanks Laura. Yes, this is a particularly difficult, and humbling, concept to learn, and is a continuous process for life! Every now and then, we are fortunate enough to report to people whom we have helped look good by planting ideas and good work on their behalf, but also because they understand how to eventually give credit to those on their team. That’s a good feeling, but it is in helping others look successful that we are truly successful. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Nancy, this is such a great post and so true. I’m on the same thinking as Laura; this is just as true for internal clients. My greatest reward is helping attorneys step beyond their comfort zone and try something new. They report back and tell me how well things worked out, well that just makes everything all worth it.

  • Thanks Gail. Just think of the impact these small victories have in the overall success of that attorney’s life, as well as the life of the firm. If these small steps aren’t taken, because of your help and dedication in the moment, then there would be no progress upon which to build. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Thank you Nancy for such a nice article. It reminded me of my father and his work ethic. He was an insurance salesman and at his passing, his clients called us crying. To think absolute strangers would be so moved to contact the family is a testimony to the hundreds of little things he went out of his way for on behalf of his clients. With technology changing so quickly, yes let’s remember to not lose focus on each other and our manners!

  • You said it best in your blog, Nancy…”The Q & A period was the best part of the night because his personality, thought process, humor and insight came through loud and clear.”

    Asking the right questions to bring out the best in our clients so that they can bring their best to the market is what good marketing, pr and branding is all about. Helping our clients bring value to their prospective clients is how we best service our clients.

  • I agree Diane. Our job is definitely to make our clients look good. I appreciate your words. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Debra, I loved what you said, and can relate to it because my father was in the same business as yours, and earned the respect from his clients that we should all work towards. He was understated, honest, caring and knew his job was to protect his clients’ futures and families. What a gift our fathers were!