The Gen Why Lawyer: Top 5 Lessons I Learned From Interviewing Over 50 Phenomenal Lawyers
By Nicole Abboud • February 05, 2016•Writers in Residence, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
We’re told as young lawyers to network, network, network. That’s the key to success. Meeting other professionals, finding mentors, and learning from others is the right path to building a long-lasting career. While I completely agree with this concept, I have an approach to networking that has been slightly unconventional. But truthfully, this is not another article discussing the importance of networking. Instead, I want to share with you some of the valuable lessons I have learned through my unconventional networking method – my podcast.
Through my show, The Gen Why Lawyer Podcast, I have been able to network with lawyers and professionals across the U.S. (all from the comfort of my own home). My podcast has afformed me the opportunity to connect with some of the greatest lawyers and lawpreneurs (lawyer + entrepreneurs) out there. Now that I am approaching the one year anniversary of the launch of the GWL Podcast, I thought it would be appropriate to take this time to reflect on the top 5 lessons I have learned from speaking with over 50 phenomenal lawyers.
Lesson 1: Being Different is Good
Being told to be different in a profession where conformity has been the norm is no easy message to spread. We go through law school learning a new language and a new way of thinking just so we can be the best attorneys based on traditional standards.
But what if being the best attorney meant tapping into what makes you weird and different? What if your success as a lawyer doesn’t just rely on your skills and knowledge but on your personality quirks and individuality?
In Episode 9 of the podcast, I spoke with Mitch Jackson, a trial lawyer from Southern California with over 30 years of litigation experience, who explained to me the importance of discovering your “secret sauce” – that thing that makes you different from everyone else – and being brave enough to share it with the world. He said that if you’re practicing law like everyone else, then you’re doing something wrong. Potential clients want to see that you can offer them something no other lawyer can. While there are many competent, skilled lawyers in this profession, only you can tap into your unique skills to offer clients your exclusive service. The sooner you discover what makes you unique, the easier it will be for you to attract a client who appreciates what you have to offer.
In Episode 36, I spoke with a lawyer named Rob Schenk from Atlanta, Georgia. Rob created a name for himself as the “Wedding Industry Lawyer.” He saw the value in picking a specific niche area of law in order to stand out. In fact, niching down is a common theme I see amongst my guests. Many of my Gen Why guests recognize that picking a niche serves them in two ways: first, they can focus in on a community of people they would like to specifically serve, such as wedding professionals in Rob’s case, and second, they can become thought leaders in those specific niches. While picking a niche practice area might seem scary since it tends to exclude clients not falling within the purview of the niche, it, in fact, allows you to stand out and attract more business.
Lesson 2: Productivity, Although the Enemy of the Billable Hour, is Your Friend
I connected with an amazing lawyer by the name of Shemia Fagan in Episode 31. Shemia, a mother, lawyer, and Oregon State Legislator, is one busy lady. When we spoke, she shared with me several time-saving tricks, but the biggest takeaway from our conversation was the time-management concept known as “Eating the Frog.” Shemia explained that eating the frog was a method of prioritizing all of the tasks that require your attention for the day, and tackling your biggest, toughest task first instead of putting it off while working on less important tasks. By first tending to items you normally put off, you will feel better and notice that every subsequent task doesn’t seem as daunting.
I recently spoke with a young lawyer and business owner from New York named Kerriann Stout. Kerriann runs a business coaching and tutoring law students through their law school finals and the bar. Kerriann stressed the importance of delegation and hiring help. Many of us lawyers tend to take on a lot and refuse to ask for help, whether it’s at work or in our personal lives. Well, busy does not necessarily mean productive. To that end, Kerriann has been enlisting the help of virtual assistants to work on tasks that do not require her attention and can be easily delegated. By prioritizing her tasks and valuing her time, Kerriann is able to focus her energy on what’s most important while delegating out the rest. In doing so, she has been able to consistently grow her business.
Lesson 3: Give to Get
In Episode 22, I spoke with an attorney from Canada named Mandy Woodland. In addition to running her successful transactional law practice, Mandy serves as a board member for several local organizations and still finds time to volunteer in her community. Mandy inspired my listeners and me to want to volunteer more of our time to helping individuals in our communities. We recognize how grateful we are to be in positions where we’re able to help those who need legal assistance but are unable to access it.
Of course, aside from the altruistic aspect of volunteering, there’s also a personal benefit (let’s be honest – we were all thinking what’s in it for us?). When you volunteer your time, knowledge, and efforts to help others in your community, you reap by way of expanding your network, sharpening your practical skills, and raising awareness about your personal brand. Thus, when you give, you ultimately get.
Then, I spoke with a lawyer from San Diego, CA named Jacob Sapochnick. Jacob is not only an immigration lawyer and podcaster, but he’s also a rather successful entrepreneur. Over a decade ago, he began building what has now become a thriving immigration law practice by sharing his legal knowledge for free. He began blogging about immigration law, where he shared his insight on the practice area and offered his interpretation of relevant legal matters, all for free. It didn’t take long for him to become a sought-after expert in his field and clients were rushing to work with him because of the value he had offered them through his content creation.
Lesson 4: Patience is a Virtue (Yet a Rarity) in the Legal Profession
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lenise Williams, Genavieve Shingle, and Dana Robinson. All three of these lawyers have built wildly successful businesses. I noticed a common thread that connected all three of these amazing lawyers and it was the fact that all three of them failed. They were faced with some failure in their journeys, whether it was nearly going bankrupt, going through a divorce and having to start from scratch, or continuously starting business ventures that failed. What made them all so inspirational was that they did not give up. They recognized the importance of patience: the patience to rebuild, the patience to see the long-term game instead of focusing on the short-term gains, and the patience to realize that there is no magic potion for success. Building a career and life you love takes years, and all of those years are built on small actions that we take daily.
Lesson 5: Happiness Can Be Created
I met a young (former) lawyer by the name of Aria Safar in Episode 20. He talked to me about the importance of finding yourself and exploring your interests outside of the law. Aria practiced for a few years and then found a fulfilling job in the legal tech industry. He stressed the importance of structuring a career based on what makes you happy and what you’re good at. Aria and I also spoke about the significance of only surrounding yourself with items that spark joy - yes, I said items, as in, inanimate objects. This, to me, was significant. We rarely think about whether the items we surround ourselves with, like the books on our desks and the portraits on our walls, bring us joy. Aria’s recommendation was based on a book he had read called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (it’s definitely worth checking out).
I was excited to have met and spoken with Crystal Marsh, an attorney-turned millennial business and career coach. I selfishly wanted to have Crystal on the show so that I could get some free life coaching advice from her, and Crystal delivered. Crystal and I spoke about pausing to evaluate our goals and desires. The emphasis was on “pausing.” We discussed how many young lawyers rush through their careers without stopping to think about what makes them happy, what positions will best highlight their strengths and qualities, and whom they want to ultimately serve. It’s only when we slow down and become self-aware that we discover what role we’re supposed to play in this world.
I am continuously humbled by the opportunities my podcast presents me with, and I am always over-joyed to speak with and learn from all of the wonderful lawyers in our profession. I hope you find value in these top 5 lessons and take them to heart the way I have.
If you want to hear from many more amazing lawyers, be sure to find The Gen Why Lawyer Podcast in iTunes or visit www.genwhylawyer.com . My guests are constantly dropping knowledge bombs.
Let me know what your favorite lesson is by connecting with me on Twitter @nicoleabboud
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delidacostin February 17, 2016
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received, and now give, is “go volunteer”. Sometimes, for reasons outside of our control, we have to wait for opportunities in the workplace. While we’re waiting, we can be learning the lessons and sharpening the skills that will enable us to hit the ground running when those opportunities present themselves. While we are learning, we also impact an organization in ways that are very rewarding. Awesome post, Nicole!!
Julie Cummings February 20, 2016
Nice job choosing 5 gems of insight to share with us. I felt a little guilty reading number 2 just now though because instead of “eating my frog” this morning, I’m reading through my fellow writers’ blogs as I promised to do this month. Admittedly this is one of my priorities, but nevertheless further down the list today than studying. But it is so fun! Thanks for the tips.
NicoleAbboud February 20, 2016
Thanks Delida and Julie!
agropper May 21, 2016
This post has several “knowledge bombs” and helpful takeaways. It is interesting how most of the items on your list intersect with each other. For example, as your interviewees demonstrate, happiness (and success) can be created by giving away pieces of oneself which also involves tapping into what makes you different and what value you bring. Thank you for providing this quality content.