A lawyer recently complained about young lawyers who were working on projects for her. She said:

They grew up getting trophies for participation and now they think they deserve praise for mediocre work. They just touch the surface and I have to spoon feed them to go deeper.

I don’t know whether that is a fair criticism of lawyers in their 20s. During my 37 years practicing law, senior lawyers always criticized the next generation.

Having said that, I am an example of a lawyer who was forced to become a better lawyer by a client who pushed me.

Businessman wearing black suit and red boxing gloves

I once represented a client I will call Frank (not his real name). Frank was a tireless, brilliant businessman who started with nothing and built a thriving, successful business.

As some of you know, over my career I discovered I was a “big picture” lawyer. I frequently was able to see things others missed. But, I hated the details. Frank was the most detailed client I ever represented. He asked thorough, tough questions, and I had to be prepared to anticipate what he would ask and answer his questions. Frank forced me to become a better lawyer.

I recently read a Guy Kawasaki Article: Guy Kawasaki: At Apple, ‘you had to prove yourself every day, or Steve Jobs got rid of you’. Kawasaki writes:

In the Macintosh Division, you had to prove yourself every day, or Jobs got rid of you. He demanded excellence and kept you at the top of your game. It wasn’t easy to work for him; it was sometimes unpleasant and always scary, but it drove many of us to do the finest work of our careers.

Doing legal work for Frank was sometimes unpleasant and always scary, but it drove me to focus on details I would have missed if he hadn’t demanded excellence.

Do you have a client or a partner for whom you work who demands excellence? If so, years from now you will thank him or her for making you a better lawyer.