Hard work, skill and honesty do pay off
I passed the bar exam in May of 1980. Thus, I have been a lawyer for over 41 years. I have been blessed to be partners with some of the best lawyers in Missouri. My first 20 years were spent with the Honorable Michael W. Manners until Mike came to me in 2000 and informed me that he was going to apply for a circuit judgeship. He was a slam dunk to get it, and he was then appointed to be the judge of Division 2 in Independence, about 100 feet from where he practiced law. Mike and I tried a number of cases together. I blame my premature gray hair on Mike, although my father’s hair was the same color in his early 40s.
Mike taught me the value of hard work. No lawyer ever outworked Mike, and he combined supreme intellect with a strong work ethic and phenomenal courtroom skills. He was also one of the best appellate lawyers in the history of Missouri and still handles appeals on significant cases for other lawyers. Mike did not like the medical parts of cases, but I did enjoy handling the medical part and Mike trusted me do so. I had aspired at a young age to be a doctor until I discovered that I was not very good in the sciences, so this was a different way of immersing myself in medicine.
Mike and I have made some great courtroom memories. His ascension to the bench led to my departure to my current firm, and again I landed in a very good place. The last 20 years have been the best years of my legal career. I never looked back, which is no slight to Mike because his judicial appointment ended our days of practicing together.
Shortly after I began practicing law, I received notification from Martindale-Hubbell that I have received a BV rating which means that I was an excellent attorney. Martindale-Hubbell is an information services company that publishes the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, which provides background information on lawyers and law firms in the United States and other countries. The ratings are based on peer review, and we periodically receive requests to review a particular lawyer. The highest rating is AV and I achieved that status a couple of years after my initial rating. An AV rating is the highest recognition and it means that you have strong legal ability and the highest ethical standards. Only 10 percent of all lawyers receive an AV rating, so it is considered prestigious and I was proud to achieve that status.
I am not sure that many look at Martindale-Hubbell today although the directory of lawyers is available on the internet. Since Martindale-Hubbell began, a number of legal marketing firms have rated lawyers and given them tags such as super lawyer, or best lawyer in America, our best lawyer in Missouri, or lawyer of distinction, or distinguished justice advocate. US News & World Report also publishes a list of the best law firms.
Almost on a daily basis I receive a solicitation to buy a plaque recognizing me as a super-duper lawyer. I quit counting, but I think there are almost a dozen such legal marketing companies that want to recognize me as an outstanding lawyer. I did buy a plaque a few years ago that recognizes me as a top attorney recognized by my peers. It is from 2012, but I have resisted updating it. If I bought every plaque every year, I would probably spend over $2,000 annually to adorn my walls with such plaques. If you come to my office you will see Norman Rockwell prints and photographs of girls I coached in basketball, but not a bunch of plaques.
Most of my business comes from former clients, friends and to a lesser extent from other lawyers. The best referrals are from former clients. I attended a seminar a few years ago, and the speaker said it was not enough to have happy clients, but the goal is to have enthusiastic clients, because those are the ones who will go the extra mile to refer others to you. Thus, my goal is to have enthusiastic clients. After 41 years, I would like to think I have been successful.
I must admit it is gratifying to be recognized as a “best lawyer’ or a “super lawyer” or a “top lawyer” or a “distinguished lawyer," especially when they are based on peer reviews from other attorneys. However, I doubt I have drawn many clients because of such tags. I have always believed that if you treat clients with respect, are honest and candid, and you give your best effort, the rest will take care of itself.
It may sound like I am ready to ride off into the sunset, but I am not ready to mount the horse just yet. I still enjoy the challenge of practicing law and I learn something new every day so each day is a success. I have learned how to manage stress so my case load is a little lighter. I will be 68 this month and I never thought that I would still be practicing law at this point in my life, but the phone is still ringing, so I will continue to try and earn the next plaque that I won’t buy.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.