5 Things You Must Know Before You Start Your Legal Career

I practiced law for seven years, and I wish that someone had given me this information before I started practicing. As a result, here are five tips (and there are many more) to help you start a successful law career:

1. You are a business owner.  You’ve just spent the last three years talking about torts, contracts, and constitutional law, but if you’re joining a law firm, you are a business owner.  If you were starting your own company, you would need to market yourself and your skills, find (and keep) clients and new business, manage your time, and keep track of how much money is coming in the door.  These are the exact same skills you need to develop as a new associate.  Associates who become partners are not only good attorneys but also have an understanding of the business side of practicing law.

2.      Your strengths and talents.   Research tells us a great deal about the importance of knowing and using your strengths and talents on a daily basis, namely that those who do are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to stay at their places of employment.  In addition, strengths development leads to goal-directed behavior, and having clear goals is critical for advancement.  If you are unsure about your strengths or just curious, check out the free VIA Inventory of Strengths by following the link at 

3.      The importance of finding multiple mentorsSome books call this your “personal board of directors,” but regardless of the term used, finding people to help you along the way is imperative to your success.  I recommend choosing people both inside and outside of your practice group, and also one or two people outside of the legal profession.  You will have so many questions as you start your law practice, and you will need assistance with things like unforeseen ethical issues, work-life balance, client development, and generally being pointed in the right direction. 

4.      What your plan isWhat do you want your career to look like in five years or ten years?  Who’s going to help you get there?  What are the obstacles you will encounter?  What are the different pathways you could take when you encounter those obstacles?  Getting clear about your plan will give you a framework within which to make important decisions about your career and your life.

5.      Work should rarely trump family and friendsI remember years ago having a discussion with an attorney I greatly admire.  He was rushing out the door to head to his son’s ball game – the first and only game he attended the entire year.  Your work as an attorney is important and will take up a great deal of your time, but it will never be more important than your family, your friends, or your sanity.

[Source for #2: James K. Harter, Frank L. Schmidt, and Theodore L. Hayes, Business-Unit-Level Relationship between Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and Business Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis, 87 J. Applied Psychol. 268, 273-274 (2002).]





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