In the past, things were different for young lawyers. Making a comfortable living as a lawyer used to be relatively easy. Once you graduated law school and passed the bar, you found a job at a firm. Once in the firm, you worked your way up and made partner, and worked until you could afford to retire. Some lawyers went the government route, where they were also assured of job security for their entire career. Lawyers in solo practice also could build up their client base and make a comfortable living. It used to be that once you graduated law school, you could find some kind of job even if it was not your dream job.
Today the reality for law school grads is very different. I see the difference not only as lawyer in private practice, but as a law professor who interacts with many students and recent law school grads. In essence, new lawyers face a “perfect storm.” While law firms adjust to the new reality of fewer clients and tighter budgets, more lawyers are competing than ever before. Talk to any recent law school grad and they will likely tell you they are struggling to find work.
Recent law school grads simply have it harder than lawyers before them. While this may seem bleak, the truth is that many recent law school grads and new lawyers are thriving. The new lawyers who are thriving all seem to have several key things in common. There is no guarantee for success for young lawyers, but you can take several steps to take to increase your chances of success.
Understand that you are not special
One of the biggest mistakes I see young lawyers make is having the attitude that someone owes them something. Too many young lawyers have grown up being told they are wonderful snowflakes of individuality, and how special they are. If you have the attitude that you are special and different from every other law school graduate, you are setting yourself up for failure. Your attitude needs to be that no one owes you a job, or success, or anything else, for that matter. If you land your dream job, it is because you put in the work. If you don’t get your dream job, it is not that job’s fault.
This principle seems simple, but it is very important. You are responsible for your success or failure. Successful lawyers understand this, which allows them to take ownership of their career. The real world does not care about your feelings or your self-esteem. The real world does not care if you think you are special. The real world cares about results, which brings us to our next point.
Outwork your competition
Having the right attitude will go a long way, but it will not help if you are not willing to put in the work. If you are not willing to outwork everyone, you will likely not succeed. The reality is that only so many good jobs are available, and the people who put in the work will get the spoils of their labor. One of my students once told me how lucky I was that I had a busy practice. I told them I think I am successful not because of luck, but because at the time I worked at seven different jobs. If I am willing to work at seven legal jobs, and another lawyer is only willing to work at one job, which one of us do you think will have more success?
Talk to any successful lawyer, and the one thing they all have in common is that they were willing to put in the work. A student in my Law Office Management class several years ago told me she wanted three weeks of vacation in her first year of practice. She told me that vacation time was important to her. I told her that as long as vacation time is more important than success in her practice, she would never succeed. I know successful lawyers (including myself) who went a year or two without a vacation because our career success was more important than taking time off. The bottom line is simple. If you are not willing to put in the work, I can almost guarantee you will not succeed.
Come up with different ways of making money
The last area where young lawyers can give themselves an advantage is by being creative in how they make money. Too many young lawyers are stuck in an old paradigm of thinking when it comes to making money. If you are only trying to make money from your job or from clients, you are not thinking hard enough. One of my goals has always been to have as many income streams as possible. The more income streams you have, the more you are making, but this is only a part of the benefit. For me, the biggest benefit of multiple income streams is job security. If I have one job and I lose it, I am in big trouble. If I have four jobs and I lose one I still have 75 percent of my income coming in.
Young lawyers have many ways to make money. Besides getting a paycheck or representing clients here are some ideas: government contract work (this could be city, state or federal); teaching; writing; publishing; tutoring and freelance work. The more creative you are, the more income streams you will be able to develop for yourself. Remember that the marketplace for young lawyers is more competitive than ever. There are no short cuts or secrets to success, but having the correct attitude, outworking everyone, and being creative with how you make money will give you a big advantage.
About the Author
Alexander Y. Benikov is a criminal defense lawyer in Phoenix, AZ who has operated his own practice since graduating from law school. Contact him at 602.253.6592, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @AybFirm.
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