Regardless of the truth of the statement, it’s become almost cliche to suggest that most attorneys hate their jobs. Of course, I suspect that the number of people in the legal industry who dislike their job is no different than the numbers in any other industry. And I’d further venture to guess that most attorneys who dislike their job don’t specifically dislike being a lawyer, so much as they dislike their practice area, their current firm, etc. After all, as with many industries, it’s easy to get pigeonholed as a lawyer and difficult to find the perfect job. I’ve even encountered firms that make it policy to only hire attorneys with three to five years of experience. As a result, when faced with substantial student loans and the struggle of landing that first offer, many lawyers feel compelled to accept the first offer they receive – regardless of the practice area. After awhile, you may start feeling typecast into a practice area far different from the one you dreamed of when you became a lawyer.
Luckily, it’s never too late to make a switch. And once you do make the switch you may even discover a more personally and financially rewarding practice. So, how do you make the leap? First, never stop learning. Indeed, this is true even if you are already in the practice area you love. If you want to develop a truly thriving legal practice, you’ll need to demonstrate your knowledge of the industry you want to work in to your colleagues, potential employers and potential clients. Ideally, you want them to think of you as an expert in your niche field. How do you make that happen? Become that expert. You’ll do that by continuing to learn, continuing to network, and continuing to demonstrate your knowledge.
Attend CLEs that relate to your field. After all, you’re required to attend CLEs anyways – so make them count. Personally, I love attending conferences with panels that provide CLE credit. You’ll learn about the hot topics currently affecting your chosen field; you’ll learn about what issues your potential clients are concerned about; and often you’ll learn the names of many of the area’s most well respected practitioners (who are often asked to speak on these panels).
Attending those CLEs is a good start, but that is not enough. The people on the panel are experts, but you want to have enough knowledge that you yourself could be reasonably asked to sit on that panel based on your knowledge. To get to that point you’ll need to read everything you can about your chosen practice field: journals, blogs, books, etc. Read at least something related to the field you want to practice in every day.
Interact with your colleagues and the industries top practitioners. Networking allows you to interact with people in your chosen industry which can help you eventually land that perfect gig. If you eventually choose to go the solo route, networking can help you land referrals and spread your practice by word of mouth. Not only that, but you’ll learn from the people you meet. There are many ways you should be networking. Start out the old fashioned way. Join local networking groups and bar associations. Shake hands, rub elbows, get to know people, and ask questions. Discuss issues with them. Oh, and collect their business cards. Then, afterwards, sit down with the stack of business cards you collected and connect with the people you met by connecting with them on LinkedIn and following them on Twitter. If they have a blog, read it and leave thoughtful comments.
Even if you aren’t able to attend the local networking events for your chosen practice area (either because they don’t exist in your city or because your current job conflicts), you should definitely still interact with the people in your industry online. Join relevant Groups on LinkedIn and interact with the people in the Group. Make yourself part of the community.
Once you’ve begun to learn about the industry you want to become an expert in, start sharing what you’ve learned with the people you’ve met when networking. You can do this through those thoughtful comments you leave on other people’s blog. You can do this by interacting with people on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. You can also start a blog or contributing to a blog. Indeed, blogging allows you to learn, network and discuss simultaneously. Research a topic relevant to your chosen practice area and then draft a blog post about what you’ve learned. Provide links back to the people whose sites and articles you used when researching the post. They’ll often receive “pingbacks” which are alerts notifying them that someone has linked to their site. It puts you on their radar and demonstrates that you’re also involved in the industry.
In the end, if you follow these tips you’ll be well on the road towards a more personally satisfying legal career. You have no excuse, so start making it happen today.
- 5 Reasons Why You Need To Start Blogging (sociablelawyer.org)
- Use LinkedIn’s Signal Feature to Get More Out of Your LinkedIn Account (sociablelawyer.org)
- Why 2012 Will Be The Year of The Solo Practitioner and Small Firm (sociablelawyer.org)