Law is full of exceptional minds, high salaries, and impactful work. It is no wonder it has attracted over 1.3 million professionals in the US alone. However, there are a host of characteristics you need to exemplify if you want to reach the top of the legal profession.
Law is spiraling through a technological infusion. Every day the ABA approves new tools that augment the abilities of lawyers. It is the responsibility of emerging attorneys to keep up.
Unless you are operating in Florida or North Carolina, there is no mandatory technological education. That means tenured lawyers are not forced to understand technology the way you do. Knowledge in technology gives you a significant competitive edge. If you have spotted the best document review software, digital billing solutions, and legal research aids early, you are valuable to any firm.
Absorbing and digesting new information is a pillar skill of successful lawyers. Not only do you need to learn quickly, but you also need to know where to go for information. The list of available tools is growing so use them.
Leverage social media for evidence, use case summaries by ROSS Intelligence, updates from LexisNexis, and the many digital law libraries are available. The quicker you find and process information, the bigger an asset you can become.
Commercial Understanding and Awareness
How you learn is secondary to what you learn. Legal clients need lawyers who are well-versed in their industry. If corporate law or in-house counsel is your area of practice, you need to ensure that you are at least two steps ahead of your client.
Maintain your commercial awareness by reading industry news. Acknowledge the opportunities open to the client and the potential threats from competitors. If a competitor could dominate the market through a savvy merger and acquisition, it is essential that you see it coming.
The average lawyer works nearly 3 weeks of overtime and rarely takes vacations. It isn’t a sustainable workflow to try and maintain so find ways of working smarter and not harder.
For many attorneys, this means planning your time days or weeks to hit all deliverables. What are your priority appointments? What are your billable hour targets? Do you generate enough income from your weekly schedule?
Communication in law is extremely prevalent. From conducting depositions to client discussions to presentation of cases to arguing in court; communication is the bedrock of law.
Proficiency in legalese is just the entry point for most attorneys. You need to be an expert communicator. If you need to improve your skills, join a Toastmasters club, take a hostage negotiation class or learn from marketers about presentation. Find a way to get a communication edge because it is the most important soft skill in your arsenal.
On a daily basis, you will be asked to make quick determinations based on limited information. This can be during a trial when opposing counsel changes strategy or deposition with a particularly elusive client or even when deciding what weight to attach to different facts in a case. The ability to take an analytical approach and make fast decisions is crucial for a successful career at the top.
The work of a lawyer never starts with high-profile case wins or giant settlements. It starts with contract reviews, case preparation, proofreading, and research. Your ability to pay attention to detail will stick with you throughout your career. It may be boring at times but it is a critical skill. Perfect it early.
To get to the top of the legal industry, you must be courageous and extremely intelligent. Most lawyers who make it that far practice the fundamentals. They push themselves in the skills you don’t see in the headlines.
Get ahead by being a consummate researcher who can make quick deductions and articulate them to a hostile audience. Practice those skills and you will improve your career prospects tenfold.