I am listening to the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. It is the third book about Jobs that I have read or listened to over the last year. As I listen or read, I try to imagine Steve Jobs in law school or practicing law in a law firm. I am sure law schools and law firms never had students or lawyers like Steve Jobs.
Now that Steve Jobs has passed away, many who knew him have written articles and blogs about him being a very demanding boss. Some have been critical of that attribute, referring to him very negatively. Read: Bad Bosses Can’t Hide Behind Entrepreneurial Success to get the idea. Others have been complimentary. I recently read a Washington Times article : Why Steve Jobs Matters by Peter Bella. It was actually written before he passed away. I loved this quote:
Like earlier builders, Steve Jobs was an exacting and demanding boss. He is described as “impatient” and “nasty.” So? If respecting tender sensitivities were part of the American business plan, America would be the most backward nation in the world. Excellence isn’t built on “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Excellence is demanding.
Steve Jobs demanded and got excellence from his employees.
In this July 16, 2010 photo shows Apple’s Tim Cook, left, and Steve Jobs, right, during a meeting at Apple in Cupertino, CA. Cook took over as CEO for Apple after Jobs resigned. (Image: Associated Press)
My very best clients were like Steve Jobs. They demanded excellence from me. They made me a better lawyer.
When I was a young lawyer, a partner assigned me to work for a business owned by Warren. I could tell this was no ordinary handoff. The partner was excited to pass Warren on to me.
As it turned out, Warren was one of the most interesting client I ever represented. Warren had grown up in the furniture business in New York. When he decided to strike out on his own he toured the east looking for the best workers. He found them in Southwest Virginia and started his own furniture manufacturing company there. Warren’s company made furniture that the Government purchased. Back in the day, if you were sitting in a chair in Federal Court there was a good chance it was manufactured by Warren’s company.
SInce Warren’s company did GSA government contract work, he was an ideal client. After all, I had spent four years in the United States Air Force handling government contract disputes. (I quickly learned that GSA does business differently than DOD).
Warren was likely the smartest client for whom I ever worked. Even though he never set foot in a law school, he likely knew more about the law that impacted his business than I would ever know. A meeting with Warren was unlike any meeting I ever had with a client. I learned at our first meeting that I would need to be extremely prepared for each meeting and actually do a great deal of unbillable homework to be able to answer Warren’s questions.
At a very early stage of my career Warren forced me to be prepared and to be a better lawyer. It was one of the best lessons ever. Do you have a client like Steve Jobs who is demands your best? I hope so.