What does it mean to be a “real lawyer”? It might include things like knowing whether to put that last question mark inside or outside the quotation mark; or simply being recognized by other real lawyers because you hang out at the right coffee shop, wear the right shoes, use the right technology and refuse to speak disrespectfully to them when they don’t immediately recognize you as one of them. Those are among the suggestions at biglegalbrain.com.

Throughout my career I have been a transactional attorney—doing deals. I have long referred to litigators, and attorneys in solo or small-firm practice who by the nature of things do a bit of everything, both transactional and litigation, as real lawyers. In my solo practice now in its third year, I have necessarily expanded my practice. A highlight was my arguing and winning my first summary judgment motion. I had great coaching – Mike Dunn of Sedki & Dunn was been very gracious with his time and teaching. Now, not only do I do deals, I litigate. I am now moving toward being a real lawyer.

But is that really all there is to it? Showing up in court from time in time in addition to drafting contracts and closing deals? I know that I am a better attorney than I was three years ago. I have a much broader sense of context. I am better technically, having more regularly to refer to the actual statutory and case law instead of relying so much on templates or the expertise of other attorneys of whatever firm I may have been a part. I am also constantly reminded of how much I do not and will never know. An increasing confidence accompanies a growing consciousness of ignorance. The interplay engenders a healthy humility.

This humility is constructive because it helps lead o a sense of place, to an understanding of role. To borrow a phrase from Paul Tillich, there exists a false, unhealthy state also sometimes referred to as “humility.” It is unhealthy because it denies our humanity. Attorneys are first human beings, contrary to much popular belief. We cannot fully realize our humanity without embracing our responsibility to choose. Fear of mistakes, of being wrong, even of being criticized without regard to whether we are right or wrong, blinds many of us to that responsibility. We must get to the point of choosing before we worry about whether it’s right or wrong. “Just decide, damn it!”

Accepting the responsibility to make thoughtful, independent decisions, and having the courage to communicate those decisions without apology, is a hallmark of a real lawyer. Whether the context is a transaction or litigation, we are real lawyers only to the extent that we are real people, willing to make decisions, express them and accept the consequences, both for ourselves and our clients.