Legal Keys to Become a Successful Lawyer

Behind every successful law firm is a successful lawyer or lawyers. Yet, what makes a lawyer successful? Is it the number of trials he or she has won? Or perhaps it is a certain amount of revenue generated in one year. To determine what makes a lawyer/law firm successful, you must first define success.Success may be defined several ways. According to Merriam Webster success is a favorable or desired outcome. Winning a case is always the desired outcome, especially if you are the winner. However, does winning just one case make an attorney successful? Or do you need to win two, three or 10 cases before you can be qualified as successful? To complicate matters more, Merriam Webster also defines success as the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence. This again begs the question. How much revenue must an attorney or law firm generate be classified as successful? If that was not enough, to create added confusion, it is possible to receive a favorable or desired outcome without accumulating wealth.

Before writing this article, I did a quick Google search for the “the most successful attorney in America.” The top hits on the first page yielded a listing of the richest attorneys and law firms generating the largest revenue. The results were similar when I googled “most successful business people in America.” This is perhaps why so many individuals, including lawyers, believe that success and wealth go hand in hand.

However, when you look at some philosophies of some wealthy business leaders, they do not equate wealth with success. Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group believes (“How Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, and Other Billionaires Define Success”) said, “True success should be measured by how happy you are.” Similarly, Mark Cuban stated “To me, the definition of success is waking up in the morning with a smile on your face, knowing it’s going to be a great day. I was happy and felt like a success when I was poor, living with six guys in a three- bedroom apartment sleeping on the floor.” Warren Buffett believes “the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

As a young attorney, it is important that you attend CLE and legal workshops within your area of practice. Never stop learning. That applies to learning how to be successful, too. Here are a few basic keys to becoming a successful attorney.

Establish a Professional and Personal Network. It is important to cultivate relationships both professional and personal relationships. Create a diverse network of professional colleagues and mentors who can give you advice and guidance (and who you can advise as well). Cultivate relationships with former college and law school classmates, members of your national and local bar associations and members of social organizations that interest you. These individuals can be instrumental in providing clients, as well as helping you promote your key attributes and skills within the community.

Develop Good Communication Skills. Lawyers need excellent verbal and written skills. You not only need to communicate concisely but to actively listen during conversations, and avoid multitasking.

Maintain Your Integrity at all Times. Integrity is the foundation of your character. It enhances all other values and beliefs in which you hold. This goes way beyond your ethical duties prescribed by your bar association. It is about being honest and taking responsibility.

Be Innovative. Put your ego aside and remain open to creative and reasonable solutions. The legal industry is changing; be willing to create and adopt effective and cost-efficient processes in servicing your clients.

Be Persistent. Perseverance and determination will help you forge through the most difficult cases and obtain a positive result for the client.

Attitude is Everything. Being enthusiastic and energized demonstrates a real interest in your firm and your clients. Although challenging, having a positive attitude in difficult situations is necessary. You should not allow doubt and fear of failure take control.

Accept Failure. Accepting failure is a part of success. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

About the Author

Cynthia Thomas is the president of PMLC Associates, a professional management consulting firm for law firms, and is the chair of the ABA Law Practice Division’s Lawyer Leadership and Management Committee. Contact her at

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