Practicing law is not your life – it’s a part of your life.
Following are some tips on building a healthy and effective career:
- Focus on the big picture. Strive for balance. Maintain your physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional health. You will be more successful if your life is varied.
- Be professional. Lawyers today are under public attack. The best way to rebut criticism is by demonstrating professionalism. This is more than just a good idea. It’s action. It’s how you dress, how you approach your work, and how you communicate with judges, clients and colleagues. Everything counts.
- Be a student. Receiving your law degree was not the end of your legal education, it was the beginning. The education truly starts when you argue that first motion, interview that first client or search that first property title. The best and most experienced practitioners never stop learning. Every case is a learning opportunity. Be receptive to suggestions. Great lawyers try to learn new things every day, with every case.
- Be a teacher. Share what you know with staff and associates. Brainstorm problems. Work as a team. Delegating is much more than saying “do this” and “do that.” Take time to explain why it is important to have the civil complaint ready for filing by a certain time. Remember that feedback flows both ways. Listen to your teammates and give them freedom to disagree with you. Your staff can help protect your law license. When something goes wrong, don’t waste time assessing blame. Fix the problem. Encourage your staff to ask questions. The unasked question will return to haunt you.
- Total Quality Management. A firm that practices TQM is 100 percent client-centered. The emphasis is on results, employee satisfaction, productivity and client service. The old-fashioned hierarchical style of management is history. The new style favors building relationships with clients and employees. Happy clients don’t sue their lawyers. Surveys suggest clients are more interested in effort and commitment than end results. Honest talk and respectful treatment will always be valued. Most client complaints about lawyers pertain to poor service (kept me waiting, didn’t return my call, etc). Lawyers who value their clients receive fewer grievances and more referrals. Train your staff on TQM.
- Take breaks. You can’t do your best work if you are physically and emotionally drained. Take breaks to recharge your battery. Give yourself long weekends. Don’t become bogged down by deadlines. Consider clearing your calendar on Fridays. Go home early. Billable hours and 16 hour workdays can become unhealthy habits.
- Set goals. Where do you want to be in one year? Five years? Ten years? Set short-term and long-term goals. Develop a career road map. If you know where you’re going, you’re more likely to choose the proper route.
- Empathize. Mistakes occur by anticipating what people will say rather than actually listening to them. Sometimes all a client wants is to be heard. You can provide a valuable service by affording them this courtesy. Let clients tell their stories without interruption or taking notes. When they’ve finished, you can probe deeper and record important details. To influence others, you must first understand them. Practice synergy: the habit of creative cooperation.
- Enjoy what you do. Lawyers who are cynical and hate their jobs are the same lawyers who make mistakes and get reported to the State Bar. Seek out stimulating projects. Getting burned out in the courtroom? Take a mediation course and learn new dispute resolution skills. Or switch gears and take on different cases. Make time for things you enjoy. Exercise, hobbies and friendships enrich a law career.
- Let Lawyers Mutual help. Lawyers Mutual does not just sell insurance policies. It sells relationships. Call for help in cultivating or enriching your career. Claims lawyers can assist with problem cases and clients. Client Services offers education and training in loss prevention. In-house visits and training sessions are available on request.
For more information, visit our website www.lawyersmutualnc.com and click on "risk management."
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.