It seems obvious, doesn't it? The decisions attorneys make will have a huge impact on their success as lawyers. Decisions such as choosing between government and private practice, in-house vs. law firm, the legal practice area(s) to pursue, the law firm to work for and the structure of their law practice. Yet I cannot tell you how many times I have talked to attorneys about the career decisions they have made only to learn that these decisions we not well thought out. Intelligent and well educated though attorneys are, when it comes to making important decisions about ourselves, lawyers generally perform no better than anyone else. Our clients receive more carefully thought out strategy about solving their legal problems than we give ourselves about a matter as important as our career. Why is this so?
It's hard when it's personal. We tend to have what is called “outcome apprehension” when making an important decision that affects us personally; the fear is that the choice we make will not be successful. This fear then infects the decision making process causing stress and anxiety, often resulting in a less than desirable choice. One reason clients seek advice from a professional is that the professional is objective and unattached to the outcome of the advice he gives.
Lawyers often take first job they are offered. Why? Because we all want to be wanted. If a law firm makes a job offer there is a tendency to accept it because it validates our worthiness. This can be much easier than pursuing a position at another firm and risking rejection, even though the second firm is much more desirable. Over the years I have seen numerous examples of accepting-the-first-offer-regret and have helped clients to make and implement the right choice, abet late, for themselves.
Another difficult decision is what practice area to pursue. Litigation is a good example. By the time we graduate from law school we are indoctrinated in the value of the rule of law and the importance of our justice system. Couple this with youthful enthusiasm and the number of openings for litigation associates and the result is many young attorneys working in litigation when, by personality or inclination, they are not well suited to the area. It can be difficult to correct this mistake and change to a practice area of the law where the lawyer's talents and interests are better matched. This may require moving to another firm. The longer an attorney stays in an ill-suited legal area, the greater the difficulty in making the change. If this situation applies to you, I encourage you to take action without delay to make the necessary change. You don't want to become locked into the wrong practice area.
There are many other areas where our decisions will determine our career success, for example:
- whether to change law firms
- should you form a partnership or go solo
- where to practice
- do you specialize
- in-house vs. law firm
- whether to leave the law
- important office management decisions
- marketing/client development strategy
The point I am making is that the major decisions you make in your legal career deserve your carefully thought through, reasoned deliberation. So treat yourself like a client; take your time, be organized, be objective, get help if you need it.
You do not have to do this in a vacuum, there are numerous resources available to help you through the process and sharpen your decision making skills. There is an abundance of books about how to make good decisions, I will be glad to recommend a few. Also, I have a website wisedecisions.com that has some useful decision tools and explains the steps to follow in making an important decision. If you use Flipboard, I have a magazine Wise Decisions…. where I curate articles about decision making.
Don't forget about your clients. The better your decision making skills, the better service you can provide to them. I discuss this at Wise Decisions for Lawyers.
Making the right decisions in your legal career is not only the easiest, but the single most important difference you can make in achieving your professional success. So how about making a decision now to put in the effort needed to make the very best decisions about your career?
Have a Great Practice!