The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering by James A. Durham

The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering is aptly named: at just 52 pages (including the title page, copyright, and table of contents), you’ll need less than an hour to discover the essential skills of great lawyering.  Some readers may be wondering why anyone would need a book to learn what great lawyering is, and some may be thinking that great lawyering “obviously” means possessing enormous technical expertise, good judgment, and years of experience in which to develop those attributes.  That is what most lawyers mean by great lawyering. But what do clients mean? 

According to Durham’s client interviews, a great lawyer is one who knows the law and has “become a lawyer that people trust above all others, and . . . to whom they turn when they (or people they know) have any kind of problem.  In other words, a great lawyer is one who knows and responds to her client’s needs, desires, and preferences.  Durham’s research revealed that 90% of clients say that they like lawyers who are responsive and who really know their client’s business, but they seek even more.  Great lawyers also communicate clearly, build relationships with their clients, provide remarkable value, and are loyal to their clients.  

The Essential Little Book manages to go beyond those generic words to offer specific examples of what lawyers must do to succeed fully in practice.  My only quibble with the book is Durham’s suggestion that a lawyer must know what his client wants to happen throughout the engagement.  I would recommend that, to the extent it’s feasible to do so, a great lawyer would ask what his client wants, including how much communication is helpful and in what form, how advice might be presented most usefully, etc.  Nevertheless, Durham’s point is well-taken: great lawyers pay attention to what their clients wants and need, perhaps even more than the clients do. 

One of the key mistakes I see lawyers make is believing that “being a great lawyer” (as measured by technical expertise) is all that’s necessary to build a successful practice.  Durham addresses this same problem and offers that being a great lawyer (as defined by clients) is the foundation of a successful practice.  I couldn’t agree more.

The Essential Little Book should be required reading for lawyers.  Between now and the end of the year, set aside an hour to read the book and another half-hour to set some goals to help you become a great (or even greater) lawyer.  You’ll build a much stronger practice for that effort.

The Essential Little Book emphasizes the holistic approach to lawyering. While the world may advocate for the necessity of technical prowess, Durham rightly suggests that the essence of a great lawyer is beyond just expertise. It is about making connections, about understanding human dynamics, and about being there for your client in their most crucial moments. Being a great lawyer means understanding that while the law is black and white, human emotions, desires, and expectations are a palette of myriad colors.

The book makes a deep dive into the importance of soft skills in the field of law. These include communication, empathy, and the ability to understand and manage client expectations. Durham paints a picture where a lawyer is not just an expert in the law, but also a confidante, a counselor, and a trustworthy partner in navigating through challenging legal scenarios.

Moreover, Durham’s exploration also delves into the changing landscape of the legal world. With technological advancements and evolving societal norms, clients now have a broader spectrum of needs and expectations. They demand quick responses, clear communication, and solutions that not only address the legal issue but also align with their personal or business goals. Lawyers need to be adaptive, flexible, and open to change.


  1. What is the main theme of “The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering”?

    • The main theme revolves around the holistic attributes of great lawyering, emphasizing the importance of understanding and addressing client needs, desires, and preferences.
  2. How does Durham define a great lawyer?

    • Durham defines a great lawyer as someone who is not only technically proficient but is also responsive, understands their client’s business, communicates effectively, builds solid relationships, and offers unparalleled value.
  3. Does the book only cater to experienced lawyers?

    • No, the book offers insights beneficial for both budding lawyers and seasoned professionals. It’s about refining lawyering skills to better serve clients.
  4. How does the book differentiate between a lawyer’s perspective of greatness and a client’s perspective?

    • While lawyers often view greatness as possessing technical expertise, good judgment, and experience, clients focus more on trustworthiness, responsiveness, clear communication, and understanding of their specific needs.
  5. Why is client-centric lawyering emphasized in the book?

    • Durham’s research indicated that clients value lawyers who prioritize their specific needs, preferences, and desires, thus making client-centric lawyering key to building a successful practice.