Put your lawyer jokes away, folks. I have worked for 22 law firms as an expert witness, and I have seen how smarts and hard work pay off. The midnight oil has burned a few times for me as a consultant, but lawyers have demonstrated a new meaning for "hard work." There's no bias in this message. The lawyers found me. I didn't know them. Do my impressions represent the total population of lawyers? Of course not. I can only speak about 22 experiences, but that's enough for me to establish a very high opinion of the profession. Maybe the credit should go to their clients who chose them. Here's what I discovered about all of them (small firms as well as the well-known).• Humility: OK, bring on the wise cracks. Every lawyer told me they didn't really know the business of bank technology the way I did, but they wanted to learn. And learn they did. Maybe it happened in law school or even kindergarten, but these guys are the proverbial sponge in the business of learning. You can't ask for a better audience if you possess the passion to teach.
• A Clear Head: We all know that a good lawyer always thinks his client is innocent. The guys I worked for covered the entire space, often times leaving me to wonder whose side they were on. That was none of my business. The answers I delivered were my own. I never wanted to be the judge or the jury.
• Smart: I've said it about people who work in the IT industry; IT people have to have a high level of smarts, regardless of how they dress, smell or communicate. With lawyers, it's the bar exam that initially tests smarts, I think. I knew they were smart because they got everything right the first time new material was presented, and they challenged the "teacher" when it sounded a bit unbelievable.
• Very Thorough: Because I'm on the meter, I try to take intelligent short cuts to prove a point. Not them. They know an antagonist will accuse them of guessing if they don't deliver reliable evidence. When the FDIC sued a large holding company, there was some question as to how fairly the 23 banks were being charged for computer services. I had the "fairly" answer and suggested one representation could be used for all 23. No way. I ate delivered pizza the next couple of nights, but I produced 23 accurate IT "invoices" for each of the banks.
• Drill Down to the Details: My resume is called "Full Disclosure," but that wasn't enough for the lawyer who was interrogating me for qualification. Lawyer: Have you ever invested in Computer Associates International? Me: Yes. Lawyer: Why? Me: To make a targeted profit. Lawyer: Did you sell the stock? Me: Yes. Lawyer: Why? Me: I made the targeted profit.
• Honesty: The lawyers presented me to the court for what I was, not what I wasn't. On one case the opposing lawyer spent a half hour proving I was not a computer programmer in order to disqualify me. The judge got impatient and interrupted him with this remark, "If Ross Perot were sitting in Mr. Gillis's seat would you be asking him those same questions? Even I understand that Mr. Gillis is not a programmer by simply acknowledging his billing rate. Move on."
• Completeness: My day of testimony was set, and I flew to Atlanta for the day. My wife saw me packing for a week and was a bit suspicious. All I could say to her was, "Nothing is predictable in a courtroom." Lawyers refer to my testimony presence as "wait time." While I was waiting, I went to the work room (an entire floor) at the hotel. There was enough documentation in the room to cover the Iran Contra, Guantanamo Bay, Watergate and any other high profile case. I didn't examine any of it. I had a very well defined task and I was very well prepared. When my time came, I was asked to defend statements in my annual report (Automation in Banking) published for the banking industry. The opposing lawyer presented a copy of my report to me to make sure I could validate excerpts. I observed a serious violation at the outset. The reproduced report was a bootlegged copy and thus a violation of the copyright law. Not only was the gun still smoking but everyone in the courtroom saw the crime. Not a nice place to be for that rookie lawyer. The lawyer in charge of the opposing team stepped in and withdrew the challenges. I went home that night after a clean testimony (and clean laundry).
• Diet: You know a good lawyer by the food he/she consumes during a case. Lawyers live a 24/7 life during a case. They order out and they order the best. And they order tons. The next morning you go back to the scene and it's clean, open, fresh, full of energy, and everyone is ready to slay the dragon.
Lawyers have the right formula-smarts and hard work. Both are essential. The wrong answer plus a lot of hard work just makes the outcome more disastrous. Every banker knows that now. Even "above-prime" mortgages will now get a thorough work-over.