10 Lessons Learned on the 10th Anniversary of Becoming a Lawyer
October 5th makes 10 years of being a licensed attorney. In celebration of that, I'd like to share 10 things I learned during these last 10 years.
1.) Communication Is Crucial: If nothing else, communicate. From telling others who you are and what you want in life, to telling clients what is going on in their case, communicating is critically important. When dealing with new areas of law, many deficiencies in knowledge can be made up by clearly communicating to your client that you do not yet know everything. In my earlier years, I thought I had to know everything now. It is far better to say you do not know, research it, and address it later.
2.) Personal Injury Cases Are More About People Than Anything Else: This one should be obvious. Yet it is a lesson that I keep having to learn. Individuals vary widely in their tolerance for pain, ability to remember things, ability to follow up, patience, and many other things. By this point in my career, I think I have dealt with people on all ends of the sliding scale for each trait. I have had clients who were pretty badly injured that refuse to treat. I have had clients lightly injured who treat often because they are worried about future problems. I have had very patient clients, and I have had ones that call me all the time, hoping for the first available settlement offer. Navigation of people is an acquired skill, one that I don't think can ever be truly mastered. It is something that must be consistently practiced.
3.) No Shortcuts: My industry has a lot of people who offer shortcuts. The worst are the "advertising experts" who promise to get financially inconceivable results within short periods of time. These experts flood the inbox of my Linkedin, email, and Facebook business page.
Lawyers also try to eat their own. There are a lot of courses taught by lawyers that sell blueprints to great dreams. Results without effort. Huge settlements without work! They make automation of tasks seem like a cure all. Are you not happy with your firm's income? Copy our blueprint. Use our case strategy! Get huge settlements on every case!
The allure of "quick riches fast" is one that catches the eye of many, especially those starting from the bottom. The reality is that there are no shortcuts. Put in the work. Be happy with the work. You will be rewarded with the things you desire, in due time, through persistent effort.
4.) Referrals Are Priceless: If people know, like, and trust you, they will refer their friends and family to you. I think the easy part is initially earning trust. The harder part is in retaining it. This is especially so, considering how winding of a road the journey of a client's case can be. Referrals are priceless not only for growing a book of business, but to a lawyer's happiness with their chosen profession. Lawyering can be a stressful. There are a lot of moving parts on cases, some which will break your way, and some that won't. A lawyer's professional happiness should not be tied to the financial results, but to their ability to help others.
5.) Treat Anyone Who Calls You Like Your Best Paying Client: Period.
6.) Call Clients And Perspective Clients Back The Same Day: I am often horrified if I refer someone to another professional, two or three days go by, and that person tells me the professional has still not called them back. I think it looks bad on me for referring them to someone that doesn't care enough to call them back. It's inconsiderate and disrespectful to leave someone hanging. ALWAYS call people back the same day. Or, if it's too late, at least text to let them know their message has been received and they will hear from you in the morning. When people put their hand up by calling you, they need your help now. Help them on their terms, not yours.
In the early years of my practice, one of the biggest cases I signed up called while I was on vacation with my wife in California. She was 6 months pregnant. We were walking across Highway 1 in Malibu when my phone rang. I helped her to the other side and went back to the rental car to do the consultation. That case ended up being professionally, financially, and emotionally fulfilling, and all because I answered my phone.
7.) Be Yourself: You do not need to be Matlock. You do not need to be anyone else but yourself. If your style is more familiar than formal, don't pretend to be formal for appearances. People appreciate the genuineness of a sincere person. Don't spend money on an office just because other lawyers do. Don't spend money on advertising because you think you have to. Forge your own way. Fail. Succeed. Everything in between. Just do it your way.
8.)Passionately Believe In Your Client's Case: Sometimes, I'm presented with facts that give me doubt as to a potential client's claim. Not everything in my industry is black and white, there is a lot of gray. Especially when you are dealing with people. I have chased what I thought were good cases, dealing with facts my gut told me were questionable. There is no worse feeling than being stuck on a bad case. I participated in a jury trial shortly after passing the bar. I was not the main attorney on the case. The more I dug into it, the less I liked our case. When we lost, it spoiled my view of jury trials for a while. Take time to get to know your client, their injury, and how it impacts their life.If you do not believe them, this will impact your performance as a lawyer.There is no harm in referring those cases to someone else, or refusing to take them altogether.
9.) Diligence: I try to be the same person every day. I do what I say I will do. I make lists and attack those lists for every case. A lot of matters in personal injury cases require follow-ups and persistence. The devil is often in the details, and those details are very important. Sometimes diligence leads to wasted time and a feeling that you were inefficient. This is not inefficient. It is a necessary part of performing the job at a high level. It is better to be solely focused on completing one task than attempting to do three tasks at once.
10.)Be Grateful, Give Thanks, and Let Go of Things Outside Of Your Control:
I try to never get too up or too down. Sometimes it looks like one of my cases will be a big settlement, then more facts are gathered, and reality sets in. Understanding that there is much outside your control, and shifting focus away from those things, is a skill that requires consistent attention.