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Successful Law Firm Attorneys

published December 23, 2021

By Author - LawCrossing
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( 5 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
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As a legal recruiter and when I was still an attorney, I have met many different lawyers. Some of them were very successful; however, many not so much. I have noticed one significant difference between those who succeed in law offices and those who do not - the successful ones never stop showing up. I mean by the phrase "showing up" is that it is not enough merely to do what is expected of you as an attorney in a law firm. If you want to be truly successful, you have to be better and do more than your peers. You have to show up more. Physically in the office and meetings, but also mentally in the way you think and do things.

Most attorneys go into the legal industry motivated and eager to show up. However, many of them lose this drive at some point in their career. For some of them, it comes pretty soon as they are finishing up law school already not showing up. For some, the drive and motivation last a bit longer, but after a few years (in some cases, it can take decades), they relax and stop showing up. Only the most successful lawyers never stop showing up, and they even get better at it. Even when the hours are long and they do not have time for anything else but work, they do not stop or relax. They go after what they want and never stop showing up because they know how the world of law offices functions. They know that everything in their background is essential, so they show up in law school, interviews, and law firms. The following are ten main ways how the most successful law firm lawyers show up and show law offices that they are the best throughout their whole careers:


Attorneys Who Show Up Have Only the Best Law Schools, Academic Results, and Law Firms on Their Resume

Law firms, especially the large and successful ones, always look for people with only the best track record. They want people at the top of their class as law students at the best law schools, secured summer associates jobs in only the most prestigious own law firm, and got offers to work there afterward.

It is tough to get into a prestigious law school. Having one on your resume means that you are knowledgeable and hard-working and can impress essential people, such as your teachers, professors, recommenders, etc. Doing well on standardized tests is also a sign that you can quickly follow the rules and understand law firms' processes. Moreover, if you were able to finish at the top of your class, it means you were showing up more than other law students in your cohort, and you are dedicated to the practice of law. Law offices see this as an indication of future success; that is why most successful attorneys usually have this in their background.

The summer associate position is also something successful law firms want to see on an attorney's resume. Attorneys who worked as summer associates, especially summer associates in a prestigious law firm, show that they go hard after what they want and can persuade people (and law firms) to hire them. Law firms can only assess attorneys' skills and potential based on their past. So, when fresh law school graduates can secure a summer associate job in a great law firm, it means that they showed up, and they will probably show up motivated and driven in the future as well.

The Most Successful Attorneys Bill the Most Hours

One of the most critical indicators of success, drive, and "showing up" in law offices is the number of hours you can bill. Billing many hours suggests to employers that you have enough energy for constant work and constant hustle. Firms want energetic people who can handle spending hours behind the computer doing many different tasks. Billed hours bring money for the law firm, so naturally, firms wish people who have enough energy to bill as many hours as possible.

Billing many hours also means that you like what you do and have great interest in the matter. You probably would not be able to spend hundreds of hours over weeks and months on something you are not passionate about without it affecting your work. The most successful lawyers enjoy doing and even have fun while billing hours, making it easier to bill.

If you can show that you are interested in the work, do work of high quality, and have enough energy to bill a lot, it is a clear indication for superiors and other attorneys that they can give you more work. When the firm and its people value an attorney's efforts, they give the attorney more work. If they do not like someone's work, they will not continue to provide that person's work.

When you bill a lot of hours, it means that you know how to sell yourself and how to create work. That is highly beneficial to the firm, as billed hours mean money. An attorney who can sell themselves will be able to start work and bill hours in the future. That means they will be able to bring in money for the firm.

Lastly, attorneys who bill a lot of hours indicate to their employers with this dedication that law and their job is the most important thing for them. They are willing to sacrifice their free time and personal life for their job, and any firm is happy to have employees. They also usually become very successful, as they only focus on work.

Law Firms Prefer Younger Attorneys Because They Show Up More

As was already mentioned, energy and enthusiasm are very important for a law office and, in general, legal services. Youth is always equated with a lot of energy and drive, so it is not a surprise that many large law offices prefer younger attorneys to older ones.

Practicing law is also like doing sports professionally. It requires a lot of focus, mental and physical strength, stamina, and you are putting in hundreds and thousands of hours, so it is no surprise that it starts to wear on attorneys after a few years. Some can keep their energy and youth drive for longer than others, but inevitably, after a few years, everybody gets worn out. When that happens, attorneys do not show up as much as they used to, which firms do not want.

Young attorneys are generally very eager to work and enthusiastically bill thousands of hours every year, believing that it will make them partners quickly. For some, it is true. However, not all principal law offices function like this, and many of them give their associates the illusion that if they bill these high numbers of hours, they will advance to partners, even though it will not be the case for them. Older lawyers who have been in the firm for quite some time and have seen that this straightforward advancement is only an illusion will not be as eager to sacrifice everything in their life to the bill that many hours. That is an excellent incentive for firms to hire young attorneys to replace the older ones who lost their drive.

Older attorneys are valuable to firms only if they have a substantial book of business. Otherwise, they can even become a liability to the firm. Their seniority level means that their billing rates are often as high as those of partners, and clients will always choose to have partners work on their case instead of associates when they end up paying high rates either way. For the firm, it means paying a salary to someone who is not doing that much work for them, and they have no reason to keep them in the firm. So, if a lawyer does not have a big book of business after seven or eight years, the firm usually lets them know to look for a new firm. This is especially true in big law firms. The bigger the firm and the more competitive the legal market, the more likely this will happen.

Successful Attorneys Are Those Who Are Desperate To Get Ahead

Law firms want to hire people who are desperate to succeed. And most of the very successful lawyers are the people who did everything they could to get ahead of others. Having the best schools and excellent academic results in your background shows that you want to succeed and impress people around you. However, many other things in an attorney's background tell law offices that they are very motivated to succeed and channel them into billing hours.

For instance, a lawyer with a family they have to support will always be more motivated to work and show up than someone who only works to defend themselves. They cannot afford to lose their income because they are responsible for other people and have more expenses than someone without a family. These expenses also increase as their children grow up (school, extracurricular activities, after-school clubs), so lawyers with families will do what they can and work a lot to keep the job they need. They will work as much as possible, will probably overlook some minor problems, and take in punishment without getting discouraged to have and keep a secure job.

The same applies to lawyers who have a lot of student loan debt, mortgage, or have other types of loans. They have this responsibility to pay a certain amount of money every month, so they cannot afford to lose a job. That will motivate them to keep up their drive and work a lot.

Another thing that drives attorneys to become successful and work more than others is if they come from a background where they want to prove something to others (or themselves). This need to prove that they can do it is one of the best motivators. Many attorneys like this NEED to get into a big law firm; they NEED to do good and become great, which will "force" them to show up more than others. This desire will be noticeable in their interviews, the amount of work, and their quality.

The Most Successful Attorneys Have Never Left the Law Firm Practice Setting For Another Setting/Profession

Successful attorneys are those who are and have always been dedicated to the practice of law. Law firms always prefer lawyers who have not ventured into in-house positions, government positions or have spent too much time doing various clerkships. Doing other types of work means that the attorney might not be that sure about practicing law or might have other interests that are more important to them than practicing law. Law firms do not need that in their everyday functioning.

Moreover, law firms are a particular type of setting. It is fast-paced, stressful, demanding; the attorneys have to deal with many different kinds of people, and not everyone can survive in it successfully. It could be that an attorney is just not cut out for such a setting. And even if they were able to handle the environment in a large law firm, leaving this environment for any prolonged time will inevitably lead to the deterioration of the skills needed. The attorney might never be able to get up to speed with others.

Most of the lawyers who leave their law firm and return to the environment leave again shortly afterward. If they left a big law firm to go in-house or into some government position, the attorney probably prefers a slower-paced environment or does not like the stress of having to bill a ton of hours. Starting in a new law firm after being an in-house counsel will not change these characteristics of a law firm setting, so the lawyer will probably experience the same issues as before. If an attorney leaves a law firm to start their own business, they are entrepreneurs and probably require a different setting than what a law firm can offer. They will not thrive in such a rigid and conservative environment and will eventually leave to pursue another business venture. Large law firms want lawyers who can show up consistently, so people who have left the world of big law to go into other practice areas or abandoned their legal careers entirely for a time are not of interest to them.

The Most Successful Lawyers Do Not Have Periods of Unemployment on Their Resumes

If an attorney has a gap on their resume, it rarely means something good. They could have been let go and did not have time to find a new firm, or the reason for their firing might have been so severe that it discouraged other firms from hiring them. In other cases, the attorney might have wanted to try out something else, wanted to focus more on their family, or just rest. Whatever they did, this gap suggests lower motivation or not enough enthusiasm, which law firms avoid. Successful attorneys always show up, always give their best, and never stop providing legal services in large law firms, so they do not have gaps in their legal careers.

Now, that does not mean that there are no exceptions. Of course, certain unpredictable situations, such as a severe illness or family issues, can lead to gaps in resumes, but employers will understand. However, you should always have a valid explanation if there is a gap in your work resume.

Successful Lawyers Take Great Care of Their Appearance

When a law firm hires a lawyer, they are employing their representative. Of course, they want to hire someone who will represent them on a high level, so it is no surprise that they wish for fit, attractive, well-dressed, and nicely groomed lawyers. Law firms hire attorneys who can impress clients, judges, the opposing side, etc. Therefore, successful attorneys always know how to look like prominent law firm lawyers and impress others. As a legal recruiter, I always advise clients of our company to imagine who they would want to be represented by and then to try to emulate that look.

Some law firms are more conservative, with a distinct look, while others are younger and want their attorneys to appear fresh and modern. A successful attorney will know which law firm has which brand and choose firms that correspond with their approach to appearance and life.

Successful Lawyers Know How To Make Those Around Them Feel Good

The legal industry is based on relationships, and many lawyers, unfortunately, do not understand it. When you are working in a law firm, you have your superiors, peers, and the clients you work for, and if you want to be successful, you need to learn to make these people feel important, valued, and good about themselves.

Making your superiors feel essential is one of the most important things you can do for your career. They are the ones deciding on responsibilities and tasks, so if you can make them feel good about themselves, they will always have work for you and will want to help you. Successful attorneys know how important this is and have mastered this skill.

Clients and relationships with them are also vital for advancement in your career. Your task is to make them feel valued, heard, and they should know that you always have their backs. They will gladly return and talk positively about you and your skills. The same applies to your peers and other people you collaborate with - if you make them feel good, they will want to work with you again.

Successful Lawyers Do Not Switch Law Firms Often

I have been working as a legal recruiter for over two decades, and in my experience, the most successful attorneys have the fewest law firms on their resumes. Showing up means that you can stay and advance in one or two law firms throughout your career. So, the most stable attorneys in their professional careers are usually the most successful for years to come.

From my personal experience as an employer in the legal industry, I can honestly say that the longer people have stayed in their previous job, the better and more committed they were while working for me.

Staying committed to a single firm for years means that the attorney is dedicated, can work with different people and in other conditions, and consistently does work of high quality. Those are the characteristics attorneys need to succeed.

Of course, if you are switching firms to start in a more prestigious and more competitive place, it is considered a big plus. But these switches have to be well-thought-out and strategic. If employers see too many buttons that do not show a clear path to advancement, they do not like that.

Attorneys Who Believe in Their Work Are More Likely To Become Successful

If you want to be successful and want law firms and clients to enjoy your work and collaboration with you, you have to be confident in what you are doing. Most successful people always do what is asked of them (and more) and never doubt or complain about doing it.

You should never have reservations or doubts about your skills or the projects you have to work on if you want to succeed at the highest levels in law firms. Successful attorneys get the work done. Getting job done means showing up, and constantly showing up is essential to any attorney who wants to succeed. They have to do more than other attorneys. They have to be fully committed to their firm and their clients. They have to be focused on what they are doing and not get distracted by outside forces. They have to believe in themselves, their clients, and their firms; only then will they succeed.


The most important thing any successful attorney does that separates them from those less successful is consistently showing up throughout their careers. Attorneys who do not reach their full potential and do not become as successful as they thought they would have one thing in common - they believe that being intelligent and capable is enough. However, that could not be further from the truth. There are countless competent and qualified lawyers; however, only a few can succeed at the highest levels in the most prestigious large law firms. They are the ones who work more than their peers around them. They are the ones who have more energy, motivation, and drive to succeed. They do not take no for an answer, and they never slack up. They are determined, come into the office first and leave last, and they are willing to sacrifice other parts of their lives for their work.

However, successful lawyers and people can generally assess their skills, talent, and personality. So, if you find out that the environment of law firms is not the setting where you can show up as much as is needed, you need to find a set where you will be able to show up. Whether it is working as in-house counsel, represent clients as a solo practitioner, work in government, in public interest organizations, or anywhere else, there is always a place where you will be able to show up and fulfill your potential fully.

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published December 23, 2021

By Author - LawCrossing
( 5 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.