It’s rare that new associates spend a lot of time, or much time at all, thinking about their motive for practicing law and their personal long-term business goals. But what I’ve found over the last 10+ years as a legal marketing professional is that motive and mindset matter tremendously when it comes to the success of a young lawyer in business development. Harnessing the power of these two key factors and can make a huge impact on the trajectory of a new attorney’s career. In this article, I provide ideas to reveal the entrepreneurial side of legal practice and ways to leverage mindset and motive to create the base for a strong, lasting legal career.
Explaining Motive: The Reasons
Seems like a soul-searching question that many law students face, “Why did you go to law school?” For some lawyers that I have worked with, the answer to that question has never changed. It informs every career decision that they have made, every client matter they have taken on, and even the charitable causes that they support. For others, the answer was defined when they began law school but changed as the realities of practicing law and being able to make money with their JD degree set in. Regardless of what stage of practice a lawyer is in, motive or the reason that you practice law, should be clear to you and everyone around you. Defining your motive is a helpful step in branding your legal practice and differentiating it from everyone else. With the growing competition in law, there is a ton of choice when it comes to who people and companies buy legal services from. The motive behind what you do sets you apart from the sea of other attorneys. Examples of a clear motive would be, “I am a resource to small businesses as legal counsel, or I concentrate on helping minority owned businesses develop and grow through my corporate legal services.” Another idea would be, “I assist families in transition through my family law practice, or I protect the rights of individuals charged with crimes through my criminal law practice.” Branding your practice increases client loyalty and peer case referrals to you and in 2019, your motive for practicing law matters more than ever.
Entrepreneurial Mindset: The Actions
Lawyers that approach their personal brand and business development like it is their own little corporation succeed. Period. They retire from their legal careers with as much gusto and engagement as they began them with. These are the rainmakers and the trailblazers in law, forging their own path and defining what success means to them. So what is a business mindset? The Financial Times explains that this mindset is present in people that “… are often drawn to opportunities, innovation and new value creation. Characteristics include the ability to take calculated risks and accept the realities of change and uncertainty.”
For lawyers, a growth mindset allows them to see ahead to the future, and inspires them to build their network, relationships, and personal brand long before they have their own law firms or are partners in someone else’s. A forward-thinking, business-minded perspective means that rather than waiting to be fed by someone else, they feed themselves by having their own portable book of business. When these lawyers take any step in their career, they are prepared. They are ready for change, action, and growth because they have consistently worked a securing the right kind of clients to build a sustainable practice that is geared toward their own long-term success -wherever they might be practicing at the time.
While every law practice, law firm, and lawyer is unique, here are some areas of your career that would benefit from being aligned with your legal practice’s motive and a business mindset.
Cultivate a Personal Network
Most attorneys are unaware of how valuable their existing networks already are. Not only does this network include undergrad contacts, law school colleagues and professional associates, but it extends to friends, former teachers, co-workers, and teammates. One of the first things a young lawyer should do is take a few minutes and brainstorm a list of all the organizations and people that have been influential on their professional journey. Once you have a solid list of these contacts, make a plan to reach out to a handful every week. Develop a schedule of one-on-one lunch meetings and coffee dates, with no other reason but to catch up and cultivate the relationship. The people that you meet with should walk away understanding what type of law you practice and why. These off-the-clock meetings extend and strengthen your network as well as hone your skills of listening and building rapport which are key in business development.
Become Involved in the Community
The impact you have over the course of your career begins with the small decisions you make now about how you will spend your time and energy. Some of the most vital steps to pave the way for business opportunities later is through engaging in strategic professional experiences that support the motive and mindset behind your practice. There are only so many hours in the day and so using your community involvement as a vehicle for branding and business development is smart. Young attorneys that are savvy in this regard would choose to be on the board of a Chamber of Commerce rather than on the board of a trout fishing nonprofit (if fishing has zero to do with their motive for practicing law or does not support the networking aspects of their business mindset).
Some great activities to engage in to support your career would be:
Joining relevant bar associations
Participating in high-profile social events
Engaging in volunteer work for a cause you are passionate about
Seeking speaking and publishing opportunities in your practice area
Applying for leadership roles in your current organizations
Your Perfect Career—In Reverse
In order to make the crucial decisions about how to begin to reach your ultimate goals, you have to know what those goals look like. Define what you want now by building a small goal statement about what your future career should hold. Thoughtful questions include:
What type of lawyer do I want to be known as?
What clients or industries am I passionate about serving?
What do I want to accomplish professionally?
How much time can I devote each week toward attaining my career goals?
Once you know what you want your final destination to be, you will be able to create a step-by-step plan regarding how to get there. You can develop a “career wish list” gleaned from information found on your mentor’s biography or from the CV of an attorney you admire. On the list, you can include the types of clients you would like to serve, results you would like to secure, awards you would like to have, and organizations you would like to participate in.
Build an Online Brand
One of the most vital elements of any good business development strategy is creating a personal brand that is connected, engaging, and present. In order to maximize the power of social media and online branding, you need a cohesive strategy for how to present your best attributes consistently and across all channels. To begin, consider what sets you apart from other lawyers in your practice area or age cohort. Define the type of work you want to do and the type of clients you want to help. Develop a “30-second elevator pitch” that succinctly describes how you are of service to the community through your law practice. Not only will this help develop a brand “voice” for your practice, but it will be a guiding mission that inspires your business development communication online and offline.
Developing a long-term business strategy now is the key to getting ahead in your legal career tomorrow. People have a lot of choices when it comes to legal counsel and so your motive and your mindset help you stand out. Having a clear brand attached to your practice helps to simplify business development as it is easier to vet organizations and events to participate in. Your motive and your mindset are helpful in defining what type of opportunities are best for your career. They can even help you maintain a consistent interest in your practice area when you need to push through a career lull. Creating an identity for yourself as a lawyer, and then committing to it, will help with online reputation management and offline engagement in the community. These factors will lead you to the most vital steps toward building a network of relationships that will last the duration of your career. For young lawyers, looking at your legal career as your own little business will define your contributions, will positively impact your firm and your community, and allow you to leave a legacy that you can be proud of.