I had the honor of speaking to a group of students at Harvard Law School last week

I had the honor of speaking to a group of students at Harvard Law School last week.

One of them asked me what makes a good lawyer.

Here are my thoughts:

In 21 years in the real estate business, I've worked with and watched countless lawyers.

Transactional lawyers, estate attorneys, securities lawyers - the list goes on and on.

What separates the good from the bad?

Here are the top 5 things I look for.

1) Deal Makers vs Deal Breakers

Great attorneys understand the big picture, and seek to find ways to make deals instead of kill them.

Lawyers are incredibly smart. That's what they're paid for - their amazing attention to detail and their ability to identify and avoid risk.

I know they can all pick apart every clause and recommend changes.

But I'm trying to make a deal, not create a perfect document.

A great attorney will focus on the critical deal-killer items that matter most.

2) Center of Attention vs Silently in Your Corner

Great lawyers are like great referees in a sporting event. You know they're there, but you don't notice them.

The bad referees are the ones who stand out, who make a fuss, who seek attention.

Any time an attorney is doing most of the talking on a call, it's a red flag.

They're not being paid to drive home the business points, or yell at the other side, or draw lines in the sand.

Let the client lead the meeting. Jump in only when necessary. Take good notes.

Let me know in private that you disagree strongly with the other side, and I will choose to convey it as I think fits best.

If you need to be the center of attention, your presence is creating risk, not alleviating it.

We had a deal blow up once because our lawyer told the head of a bank that his stance was nonsensical. 

He misread the fact the executive had an ego, and the banker killed the entire deal right there on the spot.

I never worked with that attorney again.

3) Understanding How To Prioritize 

All good lawyers are booked solid, that's a given.

Great lawyers understand right away if something needs to be done today, or next month.

Sure, every client needs it done immediately, but a great lawyers knows when that's really the case.

If I email our lawyer that we're working on a new $10M deal with a large institution and that the deal depends on getting the purchase contract turned around fast, they will get back to me right away.

We turned around a contract in 4 hours recently, and we got the deal because our lawyer called back within minutes of us alerting him.

Great lawyers monitor all inbound communication constantly, and know when to pounce.

They are never "out of the office" without backup.

4) Demeanor

The last thing I want is a panicky lawyer.

Dealmaking is stressful, and problems come up all the time. A lawyer can relay the same exact information slowly and calmly or alarmed and stressed. 

"I Got This" instead of "Iceberg Ahead!"

5) Perfection

It doesn't sound fair, but a lawyer has to be perfect.

They can't miss anything - ever, and that's why it's such a stressful job. We pay them big to catch everything.

Once they miss one critical thing, it's tough to justify continuing to pay them those big bucks.