5 Ways you Could be Killing your Legal Career

Faye Gelb

Legal careers - do we really need to plan our success?

I've spoken to many people in law and the majority have one thing in common: they believed that their legal career would unfold naturally. What does that mean? Once you are accepted to law school, graduate and obtain a position, the consensus is that their career will follow an expected trajectory. Eventually with hard work, they will achieve a prestigious law partnership.

But there are a few issues with this idea that your career will automatically meet your expectations naturally.

In this article, we’re going to walk you through the 5 ways that you could be killing your career without knowing it.

We will go from "law doesn't need much planning" to thinking about how we can strategically and proactively be planning a legal career that will have us smiling when we wake up in the morning.  

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1 – LAW is a business

Despite the fact that law is a business, practicing law as a profession dominates our thinking. We don't think about marketing ourselves, obtaining new clients or focusing on the money we need to bring in to the firms for whom we work.

Our emphasis is on practicing, learning the law, gaining expertise and doing the work we are given. At least at first. Then comes the realization that we need to make the firm money beyond the billable hour. It catches us ill prepared.

But we can begin to change that starting now.

  • What are you doing to gain new business, new clients for your firm?
  • Are you laying a foundation for a network and referrals?
  • Are you establishing your expertise?

 One of the first things you can do is re-examine your About page on the company website. This page is about you and establishing your expertise.

Include:

  • an amazing photo where you look approachable and confident
  • areas of practice
  • awards
  • recognition
  • education
  • press
  • publications
  • organizations you belong to
  • successful cases - be specific
  • hobbies that make you memorable or that are related to the area you practice such as Annette Choti, President of The Law Quill's example of a lawyer who deals with motorcycle injuries but also rides one himself and publishes on that.
  • your story - a crucial component - why you do what you do and why they should choose you

For example:

My name is Priscilla Towns. I’m an immigration lawyer that has lived the story of immigration and I know what it means to face the bureaucracy of a new country including the stress, anxiety and fear that it won’t work out. I combine my experience immigrating with my sole focus on immigration law to help you navigate entering this great country faster and with less stress. Call me for a free consultation at…..

2 – CAREER PLANNING - a risk avoidance move we can all do 

Assuming our careers will unfold gently and predictably often leaves us high and dry. Nobody says that planning has to be rigid but you plan a vacation, why not plan what you want your career to look like?

Being strategic with your goals for example will mean you put the effort into achieving what you want. Do you want interesting cases, bigger more complex litigation, to work in a legal section of the firm, to work with specific people, write legislation, etcetera.

One thing that happens for many is the idea that their work will advocate for you and create opportunities. The thinking is that if I just work hard enough and produce excellent work product people will reward this effort. Bena Stock, in Her Legal Global podcast within our community talked about this "Tiara Syndrome". Our tiara firmly in place we believe we do not have to speak up. Regally we expect our work to do the job of advocating for us. Unfortunately, we are not rewarded when there is no effort to advocate. In order to achieve the outcome we want, we need to speak up for ourselves and our work.  

3 – ROADBLOCKS EXIST - Prepare now to avoid the pitfalls

A second part to planning your career is to be on the lookout for roadblocks. People often assume that we can do everything at once and equally as well. It isn't that simple. If you are planning anything that will compete for your time whether that is having a family, a side hustle or interests such as traveling, it is good to know early on that your legal career does not just "adapt".

If you want to have a smooth transition, invest the time now to plan how everything will come together to avoid roadblocks. What type of maternity policy does your firm have, flexible hours, shared positions? It's also important to know how the firm treats people who don't work full time. How will you manage the time drain from your firm's requirements for billable hours? How will you incorporate travel into your desire for partnership?

How do you envision your life ten years from now, twenty, even thirty? What are you doing to achieve that vision? I've spoken to people who decide not to set goals and allow things to unfold. I believe that this can work. But it might not. If you can plan and set up some general structure to get you where you want to go, what is the downside? Nothing has to be set in stone but goals help propel us forward and keep us on track.

Lawyers have a tendency to see law as a profession instead of a business. Part of that business is you and where you want to go. Focus on how you want your career to unfold to ensure it doesn't just happen and you end up where you don't want to be.

4 – Be Where Law is Going

There is a famous line by Wayne Gretzky, "Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been." Law is no different. The Innovators, those who look at the delivery of legal services and question everything will be the leaders of the future.

COVID-19 forced the legal profession to adapt at what was a dizzyingly expedient adoption rate. In some ways, it finally joined this century. But in others, there is a strong resistance to move ahead further. Don't be one of those people. Technology and business acumen can be applied to design the law firm of the future. Being curious and open to different ways of doing business in law may set you up for the future you actually desire.

There are many questions that can be asked including:

  • What do clients want?
  • How are we going to deliver it?
  • What can we do better, faster, more easily?
  • Who isn't being served? Why?
  • What can we bundle, unbundle?
  • What is working right now?
  • What technology works now, could it work better?
  • What are the projections for legal firms in the future?

5 – KNOW who you are, Live your Why

If you don't know who you are, you are setting yourself up for a long hard journey. Knowing yourself includes examining your core values, creating your own personal definition of success and taking the time to have some insight into your own personality type.

Core values and our definition of success can change over time but both are essential in determining our path. By knowing who we are, what we want to achieve and what core values guide us, we can know early in our legal journey if we are in a place that aligns with who we are. If we don't take the time to address these, we can be faced with the unsettling feelings of unhappiness or that it isn't working but not be able to articulate in detail why. That is your why. It is why I'm doing what I'm doing and why I am doing it where I'm doing it.

Lawyer's often turn feelings into an "F" word in the sense, they'd rather not discuss it and it's not mentioned in the company of other "professionals". Consider how unrealistic that is. Would we remove our feelings from any other part of our life?

Know who you are and live your why.

THE FINALE: TIPS ON NOT KILLING YOUR LEGAL CAREER. I hope these 5 tips will empower your career, encourage you to innovate and think outside the box as you move forward to success in law!

Lawyer, Faye Gelb, Founder, Her Legal Global

About The Author

Faye Gelb, founder of Her Legal Global is passionate about empowering lawyers to have a career that makes them smile when they wake up in the morning. Lawyer, Entrepreneur, startup cofounder, front end web developer, photographer and business consultant. Her goal is to help you use your law degree and have a career you love, on your own terms, throughout your career.