The information on this website is presented as a service for our clients and Internet users and is not intended to be legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. Although we welcome your inquiries, please keep in mind that merely contacting us will not establish an attorney-client relationship between us. Consequently, you should not convey any confidential information to us until a formal attorney-client relationship has been established. Please remember that electronic correspondence on the internet is not secure and that you should not include sensitive or confidential information in messages. With that in mind, we look forward to hearing from you.

Skip to Content

Attributes of Success

Many of us take our personality traits for granted. Those blessed with the right nature or nurture do just fine, often without reflecting on the reasons for their success. Others continually get in their own way. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle.

From time to time, associates who are especially eager to succeed ask me to discuss the attributes of the most successful—and least successful—attorneys. Here, in no particular order, are the words and phrases I find myself repeating.

Attributes of Success

  • Drive
  • A “can do” attitude
  • Positive energy
  • A strong moral and ethical compass
  • Self-aware
  • Responsive
  • Conscientious and thorough
  • Good communicator
  • Focused on internal and external “client’s” success
  • Beats deadlines
  • Follows through and follows up
  • Creative
  • Courteous, respectful, and deferential
  • Strength of conviction
  • Operates within authority
  • Seeks help when needed
  • Courageous
  • Good sense of humor
  • Goal oriented
  • Tireless
  • Team player
  • Takes ownership
  • Admits and learns from mistakes
  • Wants to be the best
  • Cares about others

Attributes of Failure

  • Lacks drive
  • Careless
  • Poor time management skills
  • Lacks self-awareness
  • Dishonest with self and others
  • Defensive
  • Lacks ownership
  • Upward delegator
  • Fails to take initiative
  • Entitlement attitude
  • Clock watcher
  • Makes excuses
  • Divisive personality
  • Competes with colleagues
  • Poor communicator
  • Misses deadlines without notice
  • Handles only one project well at a time
  • Overly impatient
  • Exceeds authority
  • Overly stubborn
  • Arrogant and prideful
  • Disrespectful to staff or peers
  • Resents and resists constructive criticism
  • Chronically underemployed
  • Inflexible
  • Works only for “billable credit” or dollars
  • Lacks goals
  • Procrastinates
  • Overly fearful
  • Fails to grow
  • Lacks resilience
  • Self-absorbed
  • Disdainful of firm policies and expectations
  • Overly aggressive
  • Refuses to seek help


I did not pull these traits out of thin air. We see them time and time again in people who succeed and in those who fail inside and outside our law firm.

Why bother to list them? They are relevant to us as an employer. We look for these attributes when we recruit attorneys and staff, and when we make judgments about retention or promotion. We discuss these characteristics frequently inside the firm. As I noted, our most successful colleagues want the benefit of our experience to learn what behaviors can help or hurt their careers.

Some of these attributes may be deeply ingrained, of course, and some are easier to identify than others. You have to start with sufficient drive and self-awareness even to care about whether you are the best you can be. Every highly successful person works continuously at getting better. This is easier said than done, but getting better must start with a candid self-assessment of our strengths and weaknesses measured against criteria taken from the crucible of experience.

Authored By
©2024 Carlton Fields, P.A. Carlton Fields practices law in California through Carlton Fields, LLP. Carlton Fields publications should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information and educational purposes only, and should not be relied on as if it were advice about a particular fact situation. The distribution of this publication is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship with Carlton Fields. This publication may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication or proceeding without the prior written consent of the firm, to be given or withheld at our discretion. To request reprint permission for any of our publications, please use our Contact Us form via the link below. The views set forth herein are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the firm. This site may contain hypertext links to information created and maintained by other entities. Carlton Fields does not control or guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this outside information, nor is the inclusion of a link to be intended as an endorsement of those outside sites.