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Top 3 Lawyer Qualities According to Warren Buffett

published December 24, 2021

( 4 votes, average: 4.3 out of 5)
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Warren Buffett is a business leader most people know and value, and there is a good reason for that. His investment and leadership skills are on an extremely high level that allowed him to become one of the wealthiest people in the world. So, it is no surprise that people turn to him to ask about his business tips. One of the most famous things he said that many people in the business industry (and in other fields) took to heart is his quote about his qualities in people he wants to hire. According to his selection, the three main qualities Warren Buffett looks for are intelligence, energy, and integrity, with integrity being the essential quality of the ones mentioned.

The quote resonated with me, and when I thought back to the successful and unsuccessful people I have met in my legal career, I realized that the most successful ones had all three of the traits while the unsuccessful ones (or the ones who have failed) lacked one or more of them. It would help if you had all of them to succeed at the high level of law practice.


Traits Needed by Legal Professionals: Intelligence

Intelligence is something every suitable attorney needs; there is no surprise there. You need to be intelligent to even graduate from law school and pass the bar exam. However, intelligence means much more in the legal industry than just getting the needed certification and diplomas.

Of course, the absolute best law firms usually only want extremely highly intelligent attorneys in the best law schools and end up at the top of the list there (that are intelligent in a conventional way with the highest IQ and scoring very high in standardized tests). However, usually, it is much more important to know how to apply the intelligence an attorney has in the real world than having it and not knowing when and where to utilize it. That is the best prerequisite of knowing that the attorney can solve complex problem solving and quick thinking.

When you see a knowledgeable attorney "battle" it out with an attorney with average intelligence in a court, you can see the difference. It is often brutal to look at something like that as the more intelligent attorney who knows how to use their intelligence will often use approaches and arguments the opponent does not have a chance to understand in time. That is why these knowledgeable attorneys are the ones employed in the top firms.

Can You Practice Law at a High Level Without Being Extremely Intelligent?

You might be now wondering what to do if you have not been born an Einstein. Many aspects of intelligence are ingrained in genes, and not everyone is born a genius. So what to do if you think you lack in the intelligence department?

There are always ways to do what you want! Different legal practice areas call for different skills. There are some areas where above-average intelligence is vital for getting ahead of your competition; however, you also need other skills much more than intelligence. Examples of such sites are personal injury law or family law. Personal injury law is usually pretty straightforward - if someone was hurt, the case could get into court, proving it is not that sophisticated. Much more than intelligence, you need to know how to negotiate and persuade with emotions and sell your client's story to secure them the best possible outcome. Persistence and not being easily dismissed are also crucial in these cases. In family law, these people skills are more important than intelligence, as you have to deal with many different people and negotiate with them all the time. Many knowledgeable attorneys lack these other qualities and maybe would not succeed in these practice areas.

When Do You Need Intelligence To Practice Law?

Going against knowledgeable lawyers in complex and significant issues is often a suicide in that case for someone who is not on their opponents' intelligence level, no matter if they are a successful attorney or not. However, the truth is that intelligence can be critical in the practice of law, especially in more extensive and more prestigious firms. The more intelligent side almost always wins. That is why the best firms are hiring attorneys who are the most intelligent among their candidates.

Thanks to my experience in the legal industry and my business, BCG Attorney Search, I have seen more and less intelligent lawyers get hired and have also hired many of them myself. This made me realize the difference intelligence can make in how different attorneys work and resolve cases.

I hired two attorneys who were so intelligent; I vividly remember them even now. Both went to the best law schools in the country, such as Stanford University, and finished at the top. Even though they were very young, I gave them both work on huge cases that were dragging on for a long time because they had shown that they could handle it. Both were able to quickly understand the complexities of the issues that were going on for years and resolved them successfully in our favor.

I once worked as a summer associate in a large law firm and spent the whole summer working on a tax problem with an entire team of people. Even after two months of diligent work over hundreds of hours, we could not find a solution. There was also a partner in the firm who is a "tax genius" - a knowledgeable lawyer with outstanding knowledge of everything tax law-related. While talking to him, I briefly told him about the case and how we were going nowhere. He inspected the file for a little while, thought about the case for a few minutes, and found a solution that saved the client a LOT of money. It was all in less than an hour! Intelligence can play a significant role in complex cases.

Assessing Your Abilities and Finding Your Place

It is essential for every attorney in the legal community who wants to be successful to correctly assess your abilities and find the place where you fit the best. If you end up in an area where people around you are much more intelligent than you, you will rarely win. However, if you underestimate yourself and work only with attorneys less intelligent than you, you will not be challenged and risk losing your abilities. It would help if you always tried to work in an environment that values your top traits and skills and where the qualities you do not have do not matter that much. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Some demanding practice areas require incredibly high intelligence. If you want to stand a chance against your opponents, there is no going around that. These areas include corporate law, bankruptcy law, patent prosecution, commercial litigation, or ERISA, basically all non-consumer-facing areas. On the other hand, when you look at all the consumer-facing regions, such as the personal injury or family law mentioned previously, there are more significant factors than just being intelligent and knowing how to grasp complex issues. Interpersonal skills, persuasiveness, negotiation skills, and persistence are more critical when dealing with different people daily. Like Warren Buffett says, he hires intelligent people, but intelligence means other things. Finding where you fit the best is the key to finding success.

Traits Needed by Legal Professionals: Energy

Intelligence is essential, but it will not lead you far if you do not have energy and drive. The two intelligent attorneys I have hired were competent enough to work in the most prestigious firms; however, they lacked the energy and willpower to get there. They wanted to do their work and go home to do the things they enjoyed. And there is nothing wrong with that; it just does not correspond with getting to the top levels in law firms.

Energy is a big concept in the law industry. You need to consistently maintain high amounts of energy to be able to handle all daily tasks. That is why young attorneys and law students are always looked at more positively in the recruitment process in firms than older ones. Youth is always associated with being energetic and full of life, which is what law firms want. More senior attorneys have to bring in additional advantages, such as a vast book of business, to be considered by a firm because they are generally viewed as less driven and enthusiastic than their younger counterparts.

Attorney's energy is a significant factor in persuading clients and potential employers about your skills. If you seem enthusiastic and driven to work on a case and bring it to the finish line successfully AND you have the intelligence to do it, it is the best combination they can ask for it.

How To Have The Energy To Practice Law

Energy is a curious trait - some people have more of it, others have minimal resources and have to learn how to work with that. It does not matter what group you belong to; your goal should be to do everything you can to keep your energy levels up for as much time as possible.

Attorneys in law firms are usually assessed based on two things - the number of hours they bill and the number and type of clients they have. Both of these measures depend heavily on the attorney's energy. The more power you have, the more hours you can bill. The more energy you have, the more and more prominent clients you can handle. So, it is really in your best interest to find a way to have enough energy.

There are two significant ways most attorneys try to keep themselves energetic - the healthy and the unhealthy. In many movies, you had probably seen the picture of an attorney popping pills or doing other drugs before a meeting with an important client or when they wanted to figure out a complex problem in many movies. Although it might not be as prevalent as films are trying to make it, you can find this approach among lawyers, even the most successful ones. I have personally seen a few attorneys use prescription stimulants to enhance their energy levels and handle their day-to-day tasks.

I do not think you need to resort to such a solution, especially when I know how badly this can end. Stimulants can do a number on your health, making you prone to heart diseases very early in life and create other health issues. They are also addictive, so playing with them can create substance abuse problems. My advice is to choose the healthy approach.

To keep your mind in top shape, you also need to keep your body in shape. A healthy diet, enough exercise, enough sleep, and finding ways to cope with stress and relax are all essential if you want to have enough energy and a sharp mind until you are 70 or even 80. I have known a few attorneys who have always found time to exercise despite being extremely busy in their careers. Strong relationships with loved ones and spending enough time with them is another essential aspect of keeping yourself healthy and energetic. It would help if you also stayed away from drinking too much or using substances. Being fit and happy in your life is key to having enough energy.

Moreover, lack of energy often means that something is wrong. There could be an underlying health issue causing it, or something in your life could be draining the energy from you. Whatever the reason is, find it, and resolve it. Otherwise, you will not have enough power and drive to do your best at work.

Traits Needed by Legal Professionals: Integrity

The last of the qualities Warren Buffett looks for when hiring people is integrity. And it is the most important one because many people, especially in the law industry, lack integrity. The truth is, the legal world does not help this either, as it does encourage being dishonest in a way, and only attorneys with integrity can handle the temptation to mislead people around them.

The primary measure of how much work you are doing and how much money you will make in the legal world are hours billed to your clients. Law firms usually have a minimum number of hours you have to bill a year to get bonuses or even stay in the firm, which might encourage attorneys to bill more hours than they actually do work. Some do not even do it intentionally, but their estimates can be off because they do not regularly put down the hours they have worked on a case and only retrospectively estimate the hours at the end of each month. I could never do that because the thought of taking more money from someone than I deserve for the work I have done would keep me up at night. Unfortunately, that is not the case for every attorney.

How Much Does Honesty Cost?

I once heard that every bookkeeper who does not oversee them eventually steals from their employer because the temptation is too high. The same happens in the legal industry. Attorneys bill hours they have not worked. Sometimes, they drag cases on for months even though they could be finished in weeks. They always find different small things that "need to be done."

Thanks to BCG Attorney Search, I have worked with many attorneys and law firms and have found out that lawyers in smaller firms become more dishonest. It is much more difficult for them to get to any wealth as they earn significantly less than lawyers in large law firms, so they take it when they see an opportunity to get more money. However, once someone finds out about it, it can break all the trust and respect people have for that attorney. Things like this ruin entire careers. My advice is always to stay honest and keep your integrity if you want to be one of the successful people in the legal world.


The key attributes Warren Buffet looks for in people he wants to hire are intelligence, energy, and integrity, and I agree with him. Lacking these top three qualities can be fatal for an attorney, so working on them continuously throughout life is vital for success and wealth.

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