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How To Become A Successful Attorney

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If you could only tell them one thing, what one thing do you feel is most important for recent law school graduates to know about that would help them be successful attorneys? If "successful" means making a lot of money, then the one thing they need to know is that private law practice (as opposed to government or in-house work) is essentially a commissioned sales job that requires constant attention to marketing. Constant attention. If "successful" means skilled and recognized by one's peers as the go-to person in a particular subject matter, than the one thing they need to know is that it takes dedicated study and work and a constant desire to learn new things about their chosen practice area. The way to achieve both definitions of "successful" is to choose a practice area that you love. I love intellectual property law and Internet law-I love to write about them and talk about them and market them and think about them and practice them each and every day. I am very lucky in that regard because I think I have thus found a way to harmonize the two definitions.

What are some of the ways that you became a successful attorney? I chose practice areas that I find intellectually stimulating and that I truly love to study and think about each day. I read articles about copyright law for fun! It's trite, but it's true: do what you love and the money (success) will follow. It also helped that I love public speaking and otherwise marketing my law practice. Many lawyers hate to market, but I enjoy it. If you can cultivate a love of public speaking and writing and going to lunch and constantly looking for opportunities to talk about your practice, success will follow. If you cannot or will not market, you truly should look for an in-house job or a government job.

If you could change one thing that happened during your career, what would it be? I took an in-house job with a company that was broken apart several times, and the resulting and repeated job uncertainty created much unwelcome stress. Of course, I could not have foreseen that when I took the job, but that's the one thing I would change if I could.

What is your advice for current law students on how they can prepare for their future careers now? Remember that the first few years out of law school are meant to be formative, but that does not mean unfocused. I encourage current law students to, as quickly as they can, decide if they can be a marketer or not, and if not, then to start looking at public sector or in-house jobs. Remember that the tradeoff is that in an in-house or government job, you may be less likely to be able to go out and practice the law that you love. I also encourage them to get exposure to as many different legal disciplines as they can to try and find one that resonates with them. I have had colleagues who came to work each day simply to have a job in order to pay bills. How sad they all were! Try to find a practice area that engages you and challenges you and that you want to talk and write about-success will just naturally come if you do that. If you cannot find such a practice area, then perhaps you should rethink your plans to become a lawyer-either that, or know that your next 40 years will be filled with drudgery.

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