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The Best Career Advice Attorneys Never Receive

published March 30, 2022

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Being an attorney is a rewarding but also extremely difficult profession. Succeeding in the legal industry is not easy, and very few people get to the top. As a legal recruiter and founder of a legal recruiting firm BCG Attorney Search, I contact famous and successful attorneys and those who struggle to find success. I have seen what helped the successful ones get to the top and what holds the lawyers still seeking success down. Below, I have comprised the most important career advice attorneys do not often receive.
 
 

An Attorney's Attitude Is Extremely Important for Their Legal Career

 

Everyone knows that if an attorney wants to succeed, their work needs to be of the highest quality. The attitude people have towards their work, and their firm is as important to their advancement and success as the quality of their work.


Many lawyers have a negative attitude toward their superiors, partners in the firm, or other associates, and they let their feelings influence their everyday behavior. This does not reflect well on the firm and can seriously disrupt the relationships within the firm and the whole company culture.

Other attorneys get along with the people in the office; however, they have a questionable attitude towards their work. They finish their assignments but are not willing to take on any additional responsibilities and are even angry when someone asks them for anything on top of their regular tasks.

Employing people with an attitude like this is not only a bad look for the firm but can have much more dire consequences. A negative attitude is contagious and having one attorney like this in the office can cause everyone to work less effectively. I have even heard of a major law firm moving all of their negative attorneys who did not have enough work to a different building to avoid this attitude spreading to other attorneys. They made the right choice because their results and the morale in the firm improved.
 

The People You Surround Yourself With in the Law Firm Matter

 

It matters who you spend the most time with within your law firm, and their reputation rubs off on you. If you spend time with negative people, the management and partners in the firm will assume you are negative as well.

I have experience with this, although it was much sooner than my legal career. When I was still in high school, a friend got suspended because he got into conflict with a teacher. This teacher then offered to write me a recommendation letter and wrote only negative things and fabulations. I was shocked and could not understand it. I later found out that this was because the teacher assumed I was just as bad and negative as my friend. Thankfully, the school stepped in and tried to rectify this situation by other teachers writing good recommendations and explaining the bad intentions of the first teacher. However, attorneys in law firms often do not have teachers like this who would stand behind them and back them up.

Partners and firm leaders always notice how people act in the office, so they know who is negative, spreads gossip, and does not get along with the right people. When they see you are friendly with people like this, they will automatically assume you are one of them and will not want to advance in a firm.
 

You Have To Do Additional Work If You Want To Advance

 

As I have already mentioned, just doing your job is not enough. Of course, you have to be consistent with completing your job on time and with high quality. But if you want to get somewhere in the legal industry, you always have to do more than others.

There is a lot of extra work at large law firms, and showing the initiative to do these tasks with the same level of attention and care as regular assignments can jumpstart your career. Partners notice attorneys who take charge and fulfill additional tasks, and they often approach them with important work once they know these attorneys are reliable.
 

Staying in Touch With Former Employees of the Firm Is Valuable for Networking

 

Most attorneys cut contact with every lawyer that leaves their firm because they do not see any reason to stay in touch. That is the biggest mistake! These lawyers continue in the legal profession and move to a different firm or company as in-house counsel in most cases. If anything happens and you get into a situation where you are looking for a new placement, being in contact with attorneys in different firms can be extremely valuable. Staying in touch with law students from your law school and former colleagues is a huge part of networking and can help you in your legal career.
 

Acting Entitled Is a Huge Mistake


No one likes people who are entitled, which is even more true in the legal profession. Unfortunately, many attorneys come into firms thinking their employer is lucky to have them, there will always be work for them, and if the firm does not meet their requirements, they can pick up and leave. This is an approach that can completely ruin the attorney's career. Partners do not respect lawyers who act entitled.

Attorneys have to earn respect and the rewards they think they deserve. Associates are expected to put their heads down, work hard, and put in all their time and effort to prove themselves. Everything in the firm has to be earned with time and work - bonuses, raises, better offices, more responsibilities, and titles.

Attorneys are hired to work extremely hard to fight for their firm and clients, not for themselves. Those who can put their agenda aside and work hard without instant gratification are the ones who become successful.
 

Showing Stress in Law Firms Is a Liability


Many lawyers think that telling everyone how stressed they are and how much work they have will impress them and give them a good rep for doing all this work. This is very far from the truth. Usually, what others and, most importantly, partners think is that this attorney has too much on their plate and cannot handle their work. It is career suicide.

Every attorney with the right attitude works a lot. Sometimes they do not sleep for days to finish all their work and bill thousands of hours to get to the top. Those who get there are those who do not show how stressed and overworked they are. It is never a good idea to act extremely stressed. It will only result in nobody wanting to assign you tasks.
 

When You Can, Spend Some Time With Your Colleagues After Work


The legal industry is based on relationships with people. Attorneys will always choose to help or give work to those attorneys who are close to them and have at least something in common, so it is necessary to cultivate good connections with people in your firm.

Of course, it is always best to stay professional and not mix professional and personal life too much. But accepting an invitation to go out after work when you have the time will help you more than harm you because it will help you connect with others on a different level.
 

When You Are at Work, Focus on Working

 

Mobile phones became an integral part of all hours of our daily lives, and many attorneys formed a habit of being on their phones in the office. That is a mistake. Partners and superiors notice when you are not paying attention in the meetings or regularly play on your phone instead of working.

They also notice when you focus on your work and do not let yourself get distracted by your phone. Attorneys like this get promoted first because superiors know they can rely on attorneys who focus on their work.

Many law firms not only notice who plays on their phone but also install monitoring tools, such as screen recording software, on computers and phones. This way, they can see who spends their work time working and who does not. Law firms also often uncover information that can lead to consequences with monitoring. I know attorneys who have been fired for things they have said on their work phone/computer.
 

Helping Others Will Get You Further Than Competing With Them


Too many attorneys go into the industry with adversarial nature and believe that everyone around them is their competition. They do not help others when they are doing something wrong, keep information for themselves, and are not willing to answer questions when someone is unsure of what to do. Such behavior will not help you create allies.

Your colleagues work for the same law firm you do, so when you are not helping them, you are sabotaging yourself as well. It does not take time to answer a few questions or refer someone, but it can truly change your career. People always remember those who helped them and will be the first to return the favor when they get the chance.
 

Focus on Doing What You Are Good At


No one is talented at everything, and everyone has something they are not good at. The key to succeeding lies in doing the things you excel at and avoiding those you struggle with. Some attorneys are great with people and have the soft skills needed in contact with clients, some are great at managing those underneath them, and others are wonderful workers that can perfectly follow orders and fulfill tasks. Whatever you are good at, you should always do a job that plays to your strengths and not your weaknesses. If your job does not allow that, it can be a big obstacle to success, and it might be better for you to find a position that fits your skillset better.
 

Successful Attorneys Take Great Care of Their Health and Appearance

 

Although we sometimes pretend that appearance does not matter that much, it is not true. Being healthy and taking care of how you look is important for success in any profession, but even more so when working with people. The most successful attorneys in all the very top law firms are always the ones who are extremely fit, look healthy, and take care of their appearance.

It is not uncommon in the legal industry that more attractive attorneys get a job even if they were not the best candidate on paper because the employers believe they will represent the firm better.
 

Having a Mentor in the Firm Can Be a Gamechanger


In many law firms, promotion is almost impossible if you do not have the right mentor. A good mentor will put in a good word for you to other partners and management. They can help you by giving you information about what is happening behind the scenes or warn you to help you avoid making a mistake. A strong mentor is often vital for finding success because it is sometimes the only way to achieve advancement.
 

Your Behavior Outside of the Law Firm Can Get Back to Your Employer


If you think that your personal and work life are completely separate, you are wrong. Word travels fast, even in large legal markets, and if you behave in a way that reflects negatively on you and your firm, your employer will find out about this. Like you can get fired for the personal things you write from your work computer, you can get fired for the things you do outside of work if you do not represent the firm in a good light.
 

Superiors Are a Great Source of Information on Where To Grow

 

Everyone has aspects of their work they are not good at. It is just part of the job. However, if you want to excel and advance, you will have to work on your weaknesses and try to get better. There is always room to grow, whether you are just finishing one of the law schools in the country or have decades of experience behind your belt. Asking your superiors where you can improve yourself is the best thing you can do in this situation. They are the best people to know this because they know exactly what they expect from the attorneys beneath them and where you are not meeting these expectations. Moreover, approaching them with wanting to find out where you can improve and then working on your weaknesses shows that you are serious about the job and want to advance.
 

You Can Only Succeed If You Enjoy Your Job


Attorneys who practice law at the top level got there because they put more into their work. They lived and breathed their work. To be able to do that, you have to enjoy your work. Simply working hard without passion is not enough. The best attorneys do not stop working when they leave the office. They want to find out more about their field and engage in it outside of their office by writing articles, giving speeches, and attending conferences that require a lot of passion.
 

It Is Always Best To Leave a Sinking Ship


Although loyalty is valued in the legal industry, my career advice is that if your firm is in trouble and it does not seem like it will pick up soon, it is better to preserve yourself and switch firms. Practicing law in a growing firm is much safer and better for your legal career than staying in a firm with many problems.
 

Culture Fit Is Important

 

Fitting in and working with like-minded people is always better than working with people you have nothing in common. Many decisions in law firms are based on a personal connection which is much easier to build if you fit in with the other people in the firm.

If you do not fit in the company culture, you will have a much easier time advancing if you find a firm that matches you better.
 

Be Physically in the Office Whenever You Can


While work is becoming more flexible, law firms still immensely value face time. Practicing law is a lot about collaborating with fellow attorneys and being in the office to promptly answer questions or address any issues. If you are not in the office, people in the firm might think you are slacking off. If you want to succeed and advance in your career path, being in the office as much as possible is essential.
 

Attorneys Are Products That Can Be Replaced


There are a lot of attorneys, and many of them are talented and hard-working. Firms, especially large law firms with many employees, do not care who works for them if they are good enough and do the job. They view their employees as products they buy and use, and the moment an attorney does meet their requirements, they have a queue of comparable or even better attorneys to choose from to replace them. As an attorney, you have to know that the firm can easily replace you, so you need to do your best all the time.
 

Conclusions


Every attorney knows that great results from a top law school and working extremely hard in one of the leading law firms can set you up for success. However, it is not enough on its own. There are many other things most lawyers do not talk about that help decide who becomes successful and who does not. This article summarized the most important ones.

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