Although many aspire to climb the law firm ladder, few actually end up pursuing it. Even for those who opt out of the partnership track and go in-house or hang their own shingle take some time to define what “success” in their career looks like. After meeting many successful attorneys from a variety of practice settings, I can confidently say that whether an attorney is able to clearly define his or her goals in order to achieve “success” boils down to whether the attorney learned to love the practice of law early in their careers.
Note: early in their careers—not their education; and I said love of the practice, not of the law.
As we get closer to Valentines Day, it is more than appropriate to talk about love—and how important it is that young attorneys need to learn to develop a love for the process of practicing law. In my experience, a lawyer who learns to love the process views each day as an opportunity for fulfillment. Whether the goal becomes going in-house, making partner, or climbing an institutional ladder, the key is to develop a love for the process and practice of law.
Many of us learn in law school that the practice of law is a marathon. Marathon runners (and we have some consistent runners at the RMN Agency) will share that they do not do it by focusing on the very end of the race—they do it because of process it takes leading up to it, because they have put one foot in front of the other, and because they have logged in so many steps already. Those who try to run the race but refuse to embrace the training process typically end up injured and disappointed even if they cross the finish line. Practicing law requires the same sort of appreciation for the process. An attorney must learn to love the journey.
Had enough lovey-dovey stuff? Ready for some practical advice?
First, for junior attorneys, reframe how you picture your legal career. Rather than looking at it as one journey, understand it as a series of shorter journeys (you have multiple destinations, and each destination may launch you into a new direction). The first destination is often reached after approximately one to two years of practice. Here, many lawyers feel like they are starting to get their feet underneath them, are developing sound judgment, and have attained a basic level of competence. From there, they will be ready to move on to the next destination. Start thinking of your career and where you want to go by understanding the destinations you want to reach.
Second, after charting out destinations, take one step at a time to reach it. Do not fixate on a distant future where a single promotion will magically cure all that ails you. Instead, focus on the process and challenge of the day-to-day in your current destination to learn al that you can. It is the difference from being dragged in every day waiting for a way out of your circumstances to walking in to confront each day and to be in control of your circumstances.
Third, you must connect. Just as you would consult with other travelers or guides before heading to a new destination, it is important for you to continue connecting (and not just while you are looking for your next destination!). While you are in practice, connect with your colleagues and local bar organizations. When you are looking for other opportunities, connect with potential employers and recruiters.