The epic Academy Award winning motion picture “The Godfather” starring Al Pacino as organized crime family leader Michael Corleone is one of my favorite movies of all time.
An iconic scene in The Godfather is when Michael informs the family’s longtime consigliere Tom Hagen (portrayed by Robert Duvall) that Tom is “out” as consigliere. Michael is brutally honest with Tom and tells him, “You’re not a wartime consigliere, Tom. Things may get rough with the move we’re trying.” Ouch.
Our clients always deserve the very best from us as lawyers. In fact, I think our clients want us to be “wartime consiglieres.” Here are some guiding principles based on the spelling of the word C-O-N-S-I-G-L-I-E-R-E on how we can all be wartime consiglieres so we can better serve our clients:
A wartime consigliere needs to be an outstanding communicator. This means effectively communicating to our clients in less legalese and breaking down complex legal issues into more easy-to-understand layperson’s terms. Wartime consiglieres also do not write lengthy memos or long emails – instead they know when to tailor their mode of communication to their client by picking up the phone, connecting in-person, using Microsoft Teams, texting, etc…and they craft emails that are no longer than the screen size of a laptop. They also excel at delivering presentations that are not long and boring – but are short and full of energy and enthusiasm.
Wartime consiglieres also pride themselves in being open, honest and transparent. They understand that the foundation of any relationship is built upon trust, are always available at anytime to their valued clients and are always open to receiving and providing meaningful feedback.
Networking and building relationships with others is part of the DNA of any wartime consigliere. She/he is a schmoozer and knows how to “work a room” in order to create, develop and maintain relationships with the right people. Wartime consiglieres also leverage technology and they use leading social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to develop meaningful relationships with clients, colleagues, partners and competitors.
To be considered a wartime consigliere, a lawyer needs to constantly demonstrate excellent judgment when dispensing legal advice to clients. She/he should not focus on theoretical risk when counseling clients – but instead a wartime consigliere provides practical, easily digestible and “street smart” advice to clients. Here is a link to an article that I wrote about the art of Smart Risk-Taking.
Wartime consiglieres are viewed as business enablers and not as business inhibiters. They invest time to understand the business needs of their clients and are problems solvers who drive positive impact by proposing solutions that are aligned to these business needs. They are also skilled at measuring the impact of their work in a tangible and quantifiable fashion to help demonstrate their high-value add to their clients.
The willingness to embrace change and to stretch professionally is another important attribute of wartime consiglieres. As Winston Churchill once said, “To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often.” Wartime consiglieres are “learn-it-alls” and not “know-it-alls” as they continue to adapt and grow so they can better serve their clients. The growth mindset” mentality as outlined in the book “Mindset” by Dr. Carol Dweck is embraced by wartime consiglieres.
Being an active listener is critical to the success of any wartime consigliere. Listening to your clients, asking the right questions and understanding their important needs positions wartime consiglieres to be customer obsessed and impactful problem solvers.
In order to provide more thoughtful legal counsel wartime consiglieres understand they need to consider diverse and different perspectives on a particular matter. They also recognize that diverse and inclusive teams are higher performing than teams who are less diverse and inclusive in nature.
Embracing a non-negotiable mindset of high integrity and ethics is vital for any wartime consigliere. They do not “cut corners” and instead they lead by example to promote a culture of compliance within their respective organizations and on behalf of their clients.
Wartime consiglieres are lightning fast when responding to their clients and colleagues. Even if she/he cannot provide an immediate answer to a client’s or colleague’s request for assistance, at a minimum a wartime consigliere acknowledges receipt of the request, let’s them know that she/he is working on it and provides a realistic timeframe as to when a meaningful response can be provided.
During an Association of Corporate Counsel – Chicago Chapter Board of Directors annual retreat I was pleased to learn via a StrengthsFinder assessment that empathy was my number one quality since being empathetic is an underrated and important attribute for all lawyers. When providing legal counsel wartime consiglieres put themselves in the shoes of their clients. They do their best in identifying with and being empathetic to their client’s specific needs so they can offer bespoke and differentiated legal services.
Always be sure to be a wartime consigliere so you can avoid being “Tom Hagened” by your clients.