The Successful Lawyer’s Starter Kit

Successful Lawyer Credit Above the law

Success in the practice of law has always been a multifaceted proposition. You need a strong intellect, a healthy dose of common sense and a willingness to work very hard. You must also be intellectually curious and have a fire in the belly that will make you push and stretch way beyond the limits you have set for yourself.

Successful men and women had few things in common. They were dedicated, they endured hardship and worked hard. They were principled men and women who saw obstacle as stepping stones to greatness. With regards to successful legal luminary, the love and passion for the profession is always evidence on a first meeting. They always counted themselves as privileged to be in the profession;.

Becoming successful has nothing to do with the field or area of law chosen by a practitioner. It has everything to do with carving a niche for oneself in that area and ensuring excellent mastery of all aspect of the area. A young counsel would be able to work out these mastery with the following simple steps.

Believe in Yourself and Be Grateful to be in the Profession

As lawyers, it is often very difficult to remember what we have accomplished and the impact that we have made in the profession for so many reasons. Remember when you studied hard for the bar exam and felt that you were not going to make it, yet you did?

Believe in yourself and be grateful that you are in this profession. No matter how difficult that motion was or how tedious it was to review the same document repeatedly, thank yourself for the day’s work. There is no assignment that is too small. Many people would want to be in your shoes and have the awesome responsibility that the license to practice provides.

Set Monthly Professional-Development Goals

At the beginning of every year, people make New Year’s resolutions but often do not meet them because they don’t check in with their goals monthly. Instead of such resolutions, set a professional development goal for each month of the year designed to help you in the profession. Write them down.

As a young wig, it can be to review case files, study the court rules, read a book on legal writing and/or treaties in practice area of interest, spend extra hours in court watching proceedings, asking questions on legal issues or volunteering to help in projects that would improve your legal skills. Another monthly plan may be to seek out seminars and networking events that would improve your knowledge in both law and other areas.

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If you do this, you will see that by the end of the year, you have managed your own professional development.

Solidify and Maintain Friendships with Peers Within the Profession

Law school friendships and peers within the profession can help both to propel us and to keep us grounded. We become each other’s sponsors.

In our experience, loved ones want us to be successful. However, they may have difficulty understanding the level of sacrifice necessary just to stay afloat and the even greater level of sacrifice needed for us to thrive. Furthermore, they may not understand why they might have to make sacrifices for example, in the form of time spent with us to allow us room for growth. Friends who have shared experiences can share strategies that allow us to achieve a positive balance between our personal and professional lives.

Furthermore, your law school friends can be your safety net; they will often be able to relate to your experience and can often provide valuable insight on how to handle certain situations. It is comforting to know that your experience is common.

Maintaining law school friendships is also the easiest and most basic form of networking. Navigating the legal field is all about relationships. Law school friends can provide business through referrals, job opportunities, and useful substantive knowledge in a legal area in which you are unfamiliar.

Be Humble and Embrace Constructive Criticism

You may have been told by previous supervisors during internships or by lecturers that you have talent; but once you enter the profession, that talent will only be cultivated through hard work and acceptance of constructive criticism.

Thus, even talented lawyers will not necessarily be the best at everything or even good at everything at the outset. Lawyers are professional writers and oral advocates, but it takes years to develop this trade. Every day, you should develop a new way of dealing with an issue or implementing language in a memo or brief. Many young lawyers forget why their work is called a “practice.”

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As lawyers, we must strive for excellence. That means, in the words of Kendrick Lamar, “sit down” and “be humble” and embrace constructive criticism. Along that line, learn from the redlines that you receive. If you are not receiving feedback on assignments or projects, you should seek that out from your supervisors. You will be a better lawyer for learning what improvements you could have made in your assignments and remembering that feedback in the future.

The importance of networking cannot be stressed enough in the legal field. The adage “It is not what you know but who you know” will continue to benefit those who heed its advice.

On many occasions, the deciding factor between similarly (or even disparately) qualified candidates for a job is a relationship with a mutual contact. Some law firms and legal organizations do not want to go through the formal process of posting a job and waiting for candidates to apply, so they will often ask current associates or other professional contacts for qualified candidates. If you are one of the individuals mentioned, it will infinitely improve your chances of getting an interview and maybe even landing the job. As a result, it is paramount to not only meet but also foster relationships with as many lawyers as possible.

These steps serve a twofold purpose: (1) allowing you to evaluate and compare your experience to those of other attorneys and (2) allowing you to learn of other potential practice areas should you ever want to transition to a different job.

Say Yes to Writing and Speaking Opportunities
You might believe that you write and speak often as you draft motions and speak in front of a judge regularly. However, it is important to seize extra opportunities to write for law-related blogs, journals, or magazines. Another way to showcase your knowledge about a topic is speaking on a panel or other forum. These opportunities allow litigators not only to continue to polish their writing and speaking skills but also to communicate your views. The ability to communicate is critical to a successful practice.

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Engage in Pro Bono Activities
Practicing law is a privilege that carries the responsibility to help others who may not be able to afford private representation. Engaging in pro bono activities will allow you to meet attorneys, network, help others, and improve your legal skills. This is a great way to gain exposure to a new area of law that may pique your interest and to simultaneously broaden your skill set. It will also inject some diversity into your everyday practice because you will be experiencing new areas of the law.

Mentor a Law Student
Mentoring does not need to be formal or a part of a set program. You can mentor a law student by simply offering your help whenever it is needed. Easy ways to mentor law students are to review their resumes, discuss career paths, or conduct mock interviews. Although these are small tasks, they can go a long way in a law student’s career.

Find Time for Yourself
The practice of law is extremely all-consuming, and it will often seem as though you only have time for work-related tasks. However, we strongly advise finding some time, either daily or weekly, to do for yourself something that you love. Whether it be volunteerism, affiliation with a religious organization, catching up with family and friends, or just reading a novel, make it a priority to carve out some time for yourself. There will always be another assignment to complete, but breaks can help avert the gradual mental fatigue that plagues most lawyers.

Incorporate Exercise and Clean Eating
We were not sure about including this as a “tip” for lawyers, but it probably is one of the most important. How can we create our legacies in the profession if our bodies and minds are not maintained? Many of us, focus on paper work and neglect exercise and good eating habits. However, exercise and clean eating will help reduce the stress inherent in the practice of law.

Adapted from Janice Arellano’s Starter Kit for Lawyers of Color: 12 Tips for Conscious Lawyering


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