Welcome 2020! With a new decade and a new year before us, now is the time to prepare to make the coming years the most professionally successful. When I first started practicing, I thought I would be successful by working the hardest. I would be the first one to the office in the morning and the last one to leave. Unfortunately, that idea was short-lived as I was late for work the very first day of my first legal job. I was clearly overly ambitious, but hard work is only part of the puzzle of achieving professional success.
In writing this article, I took the opportunity to consult with various well-respected and experienced attorneys to determine what new resolutions new and young attorneys need to put into effect in order to start down the path of professional success. Based on those conversations, I am recommending the following resolutions:
- Be bold. If there is a case in your firm you want to be involved in, approach one of the partners and ask to be a part of it. If you want to observe a trial, ask the attorney managing the case if you can attend. If you have never participated in a deposition, ask a partner if you can observe a deposition. By doing this, you will obtain valuable experience and impress the partners by your evident desire to learn.
- Be honest. Unfortunately, mistakes happen. If a mistake occurs, be honest with your client. Do not lie or try to cover it up. As the saying goes, the coverup is generally worse than the crime. The important part is to fix the error and move forward. Additionally, an unfortunate part of our job is sometimes delivering bad news. That can mean receiving an order that is not in your client’s favor or receiving an unexpected petition from the other side. When you receive that bad news, you must be forward and direct with your client. Honesty in this profession is truly always the best policy.
- Be gracious. Your reputation is your most important asset and, unfortunately, it can be destroyed quite easily. Always be respectful and courteous to your adversary. You never know who will send you business, who you may need help from down the road or whether someone might be the door to the next great job opportunity. If you gain a reputation as a kind and respectful lawyer, doors will open. Now, I realize that this sounds like common sense and you might think that this paragraph doesn’t apply to you. Respectfully, I beg to differ. There is not an attorney out there who cannot benefit from a reminder to be gracious and courteous. No matter what type of law you practice, it is innately adversarial and all attorneys sometimes let that adversarial nature go to their heads and burst out with unnecessary aggression. When that happens, you open the door for people to develop a negative impression of you. If you are just starting out in the law, those first impressions become harder to shake. Therefore, it is important to remember that being kind and courteous never goes out of style. Just like a strand of pearls.
- Do not let a loss be a failure. All of us will lose cases. All of us will have bad days. However, those bad days do not define who we are as attorneys. Everyone has a bad day at work, but there is always tomorrow. Tomorrow does not have to be another bad day. Tomorrow could potentially be a great day. You cannot let the losses drag you down and define you. Take a loss as an opportunity to learn and be better. Schedule a time to discuss the case with a senior attorney and get feedback. Remember, you can do this!
- Take time off. Being a lawyer is a wearing profession. It can be exhausting trying to capture billable hours and managing clients’ expectations. If you focus on work, work, work, you will burn out. In order to be the best at your job, you need to take time away. Spend time with family. Enjoy a trip to the beach. Or take a staycation and catch up on your favorite Bravo reality TV show (I recommend diving into “Below Deck”). Whatever it is that you like to do in your spare time, take the time to do it. You will do your best work if you take the time to reset.
- Remember that you are the expert. Do not let your clients run the show. They hired you for your legal expertise, not the other way around. If a client wants to pursue a course of action that is either not beneficial or just does not make sense, say that to the client. If a client starts pushing for a different legal strategy, be direct with the client and explain why the strategy currently in place is the best way to move forward. Do not let your client push you to do something that you are not comfortable with or will not advance that client’s case. You are the lawyer. You are in charge.
- Get involved! Get involved in your county bar association. Get involved in your state bar association. Get involved in an Inn of Court. Volunteer for causes that you care about. Get involved in your local political party. The important part is be involved. That is how you will make connections and develop relationships, potentially leading to future business. If you do not know where to start, the first thing you should do is become a member of your county bar association. Then, become a member and get involved with the section devoted to your area of practice. Then become a member of the young lawyers division and make it a point to go to meetings. Attend the bar association events. Trust me, you will meet people, develop new relationships and likely form lasting friendships. Attend the association’s bench bar event. If the cost to attend the bench bar event seems too much for you, contact the bar association and see if there are scholarships available. Bench bar is a great opportunity to have fun and spend quality time with people who can be mentors, friends and referral sources. The important point, though, is be involved in something, whether it is the bar association, a charity or a political party. Those relationships you will form are an important part of your professional success.
Now, putting the above resolutions into effect will not guarantee you a flourishing legal career. However, it will help get you there. The rest depends on you.
Cheers to a successful 2020!
Melanie J. Wender is a family law attorney at Williams Family Law in Bucks County. Learn more about her practice at bucksfamilylawyers.com.