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What you didn’t learn in law school: A short guide to succeeding as a lawyer

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Guide to Lawyer Success

You finished law school and passed the bar. You will be working in a firm, in-house, for the government, or on your own. Now what? How do you translate academic success into career success? How do you get clients, sell yourself, and work with clients?

Many young lawyers ask (or should ask) themselves these questions. Naturally, the answers vary depending on your career track. However, the fundamentals are universal. And irrespective of your career choice, working to answer these questions can greatly impact your success, happiness, and financial well-being.

Detour

Before discussing how to market yourself, sell yourself, and treat clients, I want to highlight the importance of staying healthy, spending time with loved ones, and doing things that make you happy, all as a foundation for life and career success.

Succeeding as a lawyer and in life requires a solid foundation. A solid foundation includes your health (mental and physical), your personal relationships, and doing things that make you happy. As part of your career, it is important that you create a routine where you incorporate exercise, healthy eating, time with loved ones, and time with yourself into your daily life. Balancing this routine with work will help you create a successful and happy life and career.

Just like a law-school exam, your challenge is time. If you had two hours to complete a one-hour exam, you would probably score 100%. Unfortunately, that is not reality. There are only so many hours in a day and your days will be occupied with meetings, assignments, court appearances, client events, client requests, and demanding bosses. Such is the reality of law and most other professions. As such, you will feel pressured to maximize your time.

One of the easiest ways to have more time is by living close to work. If you can, try to avoid a long commute. That apartment near the beach or lake and next to your friends sounds great, but if it creates a two to three-hour daily commute, do not do it. Do the math. A two-hour daily commute equals ten plus hours commuting per week and about 500 hours commuting per year. If you can cut that commute to 30 minutes, you will save about 375 hours per year. That’s 375 hours that you could spend improving yourself, exercising, learning your trade, or enjoying time with friends and family.

And now, back to the article …

Marketing

As you create your foundation of health, relationships, and happiness, you should also invest time into marketing yourself. There are numerous ways to market yourself, and how you market yourself depends on who you are and what you find interesting. Nevertheless, if you do not market yourself, no one will know who you are or what you do. You could be the smartest, most talented lawyer, but if the right people do not know that, then it may not matter.

Do not confuse marketing with sales. Marketing is getting people to know your name; sales is pitching your skills and asking for business. Both are important, but too many lawyers do not appreciate the need for either.

There are many ways to market yourself, including, writing articles or blogs, attending and (better yet) speaking at Bar events, joining clubs, introducing yourself to people you work with, and maintaining relationships. Create a marketing plan and incorporate the steps of your marketing plan into your daily/monthly/yearly routine.

For example, do not just write an article; instead, write an article at least every year. Likewise, make connecting and re-connecting with people not a “one and done” exercise; instead, plan on contacting one or two people every day and having coffee or lunch with one or two people every week.

Many of your future clients and client referral sources are people you met in law school. As such, and as you should do throughout your life and your career, protect your reputation and carry yourself in a manner that alludes character and ethics. Focus on regularly reconnecting with your law school classmates and others you know.

Also, get to know the people you will work with. They may think of you for projects, and if they change jobs, they may go from being colleagues to clients.

Sales

Very few people like sales. Sales opens us up to potential rejection. Further, many of us feel uncomfortable asking friends for business. Unfortunately, if you want business, you will have to ask for it—especially from friends. Simply stated, you will not get many clients or much business unless you ask.

You do not have to be “slick” or fit any type of stereotype to sell yourself. You just have to get over your fear and ask. There are many good books on sales that explain sales techniques and instill confidence. Read one. Zig Ziglar is the one of the best-known authors on selling, and there are many others.

Also, when you meet people that you think are good at sales (and marketing), ask them what they do and how they do it. You will likely hear various explanations and differing techniques, but all of them will one thing in common—they make sales and marketing a priority.

Clients

When you get a client, treat them like gold. Respond to their e-mails, texts, and calls immediately. Do the best work you can for them. Be honest with them and do not be afraid to tell them bad news. Do not be afraid to ask them how you are doing. Communicate with them. Solve their problem, even if it means referring them to another lawyer or law firm. Do not limit yourself to just your skills.

Young attorneys should also treat the lawyers they work for in their firm or company as clients. Remember, your job as a young attorney is to make your senior attorney’s life easier. You do that by meeting deadlines, promptly responding to inquiries, doing good work, creating work product that is signature ready, proofreading, communicating with your senior attorneys, and showing them that you care and that they matter.

In the end, you want to treat your senior lawyers just like you treat a paying client. And by doing so, you will become their go to associate and get exposed to more and more interesting matters.

Conclusion

Starting your legal career will be challenging. However, by learning your trade, marketing yourself, respecting those around you, and taking care of yourself, your career will be highly rewarding and enriching.

Mike Wippler Michael Wippler is a member of Dykema’s six-person Executive Board. He manages client service teams for several of the firm’s main clients, and focuses his legal practice on business counseling, litigation, and negotiating and documenting business and real estate transactions. He is based in Los Angeles, and can be reached at mwippler@dykema.com.