The success of your practice depends on many factors. The one most lawyers focus on is the quality of our substantive work product. Substantive work is certainly important; a fact that is drilled into us during law school.
However, as the famous trial lawyer Gerry Spence emphatically stated, there’s more to being an effective lawyer. This is where the analogy about putting a fancy saddle on an old horse won’t make the horse more attractive nor a better performer comes to mind. While the saddle is very important to the horse’s ability to perform, it’s not more important than the horse.
What’s important is the horse under that saddle. That would be you, the human. You guessed it -your abilities as a lawyer would be the saddle.
Are you so focused on the saddle, putting all your eggs in your substantive legal knowledge basket, that you find yourself counting only on your substantive legal knowledge and work to lead you to a bright and successful legal career?
If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you know of the dangers. As such, let’s focus on the benefits of having a “wholistic” practice. By this, I mean factoring in all the different ways your practice and career success is measured.
One of the best measures I see for a healthy practice and career is the level of support we give to other lawyers. Supporting other lawyers allows for diversity to flourish – and this helps your own practice thrive.
Inclusion is defined as a sense of belonging; feeling respected, valued, and seen for who we are. If inclusion is about belonging, then what is belonging about?
Wikipedia defines the sense of “belonging” as the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. We all have a desire to belong and be part of something bigger than ourselves.
Whether you know it or not, you have a desire to belong. You may just be too busy practicing law to really stop and contemplate this desire. Stop and think about the times when you have really felt like you belonged somewhere.
What made you feel this way? I suspect you felt supported by others. As a result, you likely gave back to the group that supported you by offering support to the other group members. , Everyone in the collective (group) thrived in harmony, with each member of the group feeling appreciated, recognized and supported for their diversity (strengths, values, backgrounds, etc.).
Thinking back to my securities law career in Washington DC, every amazing job I ever had was because I was part of a supportive group of lawyers that believed in me and referred me for career opportunities. Once I landed the next career move for myself, I then had to prove my value with my knowledge as a securities lawyer (i.e., my “saddle”). But what kept all the doors opening for me was not just my substantive knowledge, but my personal brand buoyed by my supportive community.
That’s the blueprint for building a diverse, easy and equitable practice and legal career that is more than just your substantive skillset: your personal brand buttressed by your supportive community. While your substantive skills as a lawyer will drive referrals and new doors opening for you, the rest of your personal brand hinges in great part on your ability to be part of a supportive community of like-minded lawyers, allowing for greater inclusion and belonging.
The challenge is always a very human one. We have all been trained, and perhaps raised, to believe that other lawyers are our competition. The marketing industry wants us all to believe that we should focus on our competition, and either annihilate them or constantly be stressed about how to stay ahead of our competitors. While competition is real and something to keep in our sight, the easier and less stressful focal point of building brand support through belonging within your legal community will get you better results in the long run. If nothing else, you will likely be less stressed, happier and enjoy your economic rewards.
If you are reading this and believe that this is only true for junior, or newer, attorneys, think again. Age, experience and gender have no bearing on our very human needs to be included and feel like we each belong. In this day and age, we are ALL responsible for doing our part to increase the diversity in our legal community. It starts by being self-aware of what is our individual plan to increase equitable situations for other lawyers allowing them to feel included and thus, engendering belonging.
Here are some real steps to implement in your daily practice. Stop and consider:
- If “inclusion” is about who we are individually, how much exploration, time and energy have you invested in learning more about who you are? We all would like to think we know who we are. But we often find that we are not so sure. This lack of clarity can lead to losing focus and confidence. Others see this lack of focus and confidence and respond. Worse, when we have lost focus and confidence, we then are not open to allowing others the freedom to be who they are, belong and feel included.
- In your legal community, do you feel respected, valued, and seen for who you are?
- If so, what are others doing to support you?
- What could they be doing better?
- How would you feel most comfortable communicating your needs/desires as such?
- In your legal community, how are you supporting others to feel respected, valued and seen for who they are
- What could you be doing better in this regard?
- How can you kindly bring other lawyers in your legal community to self-awareness around this issue?
- If you are not finding much support, what can you do to remedy this situation?
- Consider setting up a support system/group. Great brands are brave and take the lead where they see a need.
- Need inspiration or a sample or a place to join? Check out this Facebook support group for women lawyers. You’re more than welcome to join us, too!
About the Author
Katy Goshtasbi is a securities lawyer, branding expert, coach, consultant and founder of Puris Consulting. She works with law firms, lawyers and organizations on mastering change and developing brands that get their message out effectively. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org