These days, the legal profession is more competitive than ever—especially for younger attorneys. Below are a couple of tips that younger attorneys should follow in order to ensure long term success in the legal profession.
In my experience, many young attorneys act like they have accomplished something important because they have passed the bar and become a licensed attorney. While that may be true within your inner-circle, it is not true at your law firm or in the legal profession generally. Every attorney has passed the bar—so passing the bar is not an accomplishment, as much as a condition that must be satisfied before you can join the legal profession. When you become licensed, you are starting the race—you are not midway through it and you are not at the end. Act accordingly—work hard, listen to you superiors, learn from your superiors, and understand that you are not entitled to anything. The right attitude goes a long way in the early years of your career, and can make up for shortcomings in other areas.
Become An Expert
Just because you graduated law school does not mean you should stop hitting the books. For most successful attorneys, learning is a constant, on-going process, and there is no better way to ensure your success as an attorney than to become an expert in something. Like it or not, attorneys with a general grasp of a legal issues are a dime a dozen. The best way to become invaluable to your employer and your clients is to become an expert. So identify a niche for yourself, and become the most knowledgeable person in that niche. You may have to study on your own time, but in the end, it will be worth it.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
As a new attorney, you will encounter many situations that you are not entirely comfortable with—arguing an issue you are not intimately familiar with, dealing with a client you have never met, trying a case that you weren’t involved with from day one, etc. Do not shy away from these situations, embrace them—they will expand your horizons, provide you with invaluable experience, and allow you to grow as an attorney and a person. One of the worst things a young attorney can do is tell a supervising attorney they are not comfortable doing something that they are asked to do (unless it is illegal or unethical). It immediately renders you less useful than your colleague that does take on the task, which is a dangerous situation to be in.
There is a common phrase in the legal profession that you will continuously over the course of your career—“don’t recreate the wheel.” In some cases, such as performing a routine task, it applies and has merit, but in most cases, it is a lazy, inapplicable saying. As an attorney, very few clients and situations that you encounter will be identical. So be creative. You have clients with unique issues—give them unique solutions. Many people think that the legal profession stifles creativity—to the contrary, it can be an incredibly creative profession when done properly.
Think About Client Development
The majority of attorneys are in private practice, which requires them to develop and maintain clients to truly be successful. Unfortunately, most law schools don’t teach students about client development, and most young attorneys don’t think about it until much later in their career. You need to start thinking about client development from day one. Client development is all about meeting people, letting people know what you do, and making a good impression. In the old days, that required attorneys to join associations and other groups, get out and meet people, hand out business cards, etc. Fortunately for you, with tools like Facebook and Legal Services Link, client development these days is easier than ever and can be done relatively efficiently and inexpensively. Whatever tools you decide to use, take some time and put together a client development plan. A little bit of thought and effort about client development in the early years of practice goes a long way in ensuring future financial success.
While these tips will not guarantee your long-term success in the legal profession, they are a good start, and if you follow them, your chances for success increase dramatically.