A legal career today can spell different things for different people. A traditional legal career can follow the track of associate-to-partner-to-owner in a law firm, or a solo practice. Even within these options there are so many different branches of law and practice that it is difficult to define particular skills that are uniformly relevant. Then there are also a huge number of non-traditional options including working for the government and non-profits, or working for agencies like the FBI.
A lawyer may be a litigator, or an adviser, and depending upon the role played by a lawyer, the skill sets vary. One does not need to be an outstanding orator to practice drafting of deeds and documents, and being an outstanding orator may be good for litigation, but insufficient for interpretation of statutes.
The only thing that we may be certain about in gaining success in a legal career (though it is always subjective to the personal definition of “success” of a person) are some basic skill sets, some attitudes and approaches, and some personality traits, without which success is unreachable in any profession, legal or not.
However discussing such basic habits, attitudes, and traits becomes necessary, because attorneys can lack them and still achieve a measure of professional success by leaning upon personal skills or substantive subject knowledge. However, consistently successful existence is a result of culturing effective habits and traits.
Here are some tips that may seem contradictory, but successful people manage to see that they co-exist and keep juggling their priorities according to changing circumstances:
Contemplate your personal vision and don't get carried away in always present pending tasks
Do not keep tasks pending – keep your desk as cleared as possible always
Actively nurture a positive outlook
Never ignore reality, always look to maximize your opportunities in any perceived change of circumstances
Develop and write down long-term career goals and objectives across a time line – knowing that it is not immutable
Be strategic and creative in trying to reach your goals
Network for learning
Define a personal image of yourself that you would like to promote, and maintain it
Learn skills and techniques for managing stress and developing performance
Polish your skills of social interaction (“What do you want?” and “What can I do for you?” mean the same, but have quite different end results)
Identify your fears and crush them out of existence
To draw upon a time-tested definition coined by Paul Meyer, “Success is the progressive realization of worthwhile predetermined personal goals.” Read that time and again, and things might become clearer.
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To gain success, there is first a need to define success, and this can vary from person to person. For the sake of this article, we have assumed the common stereotype of a successful lawyer – someone who earns a lot of money, has lots of friends, enjoys lots of respect from peers, and commands a lot of attention. That's a lot of lots of things alright, but it is achievable and demonstrated every day by common, and not outstanding, lawyers. You can become a successful partner in a law firm or become a well-respected solo lawyer if, besides gathering substantive knowledge and applying your mind, you also culture the correct attitudes and habits. You may not be able to become Clarence Darrow, but you'd still be a successful lawyer.