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Successful lawyers offer secrets for thriving career

Successful lawyers offer secrets for thriving career

By John Glynn

You studied hard, passed the bar, bought a professional wardrobe and set out to launch your career. But what are some of the secrets to success that you can only learn from others in the field who were once in your shoes? At the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Boston, six panelists shared their best tips at “Top Issues to Master for a Thriving Career,” sponsored by the ABA Young Lawyers Division.

The moderator was Kathy Morris, host of a monthly series of free career development webinars for ABA members and founder of the Legal Profession PREP Class.  She also created the Career Resource Center for the ABA in 2000. She introduced the five panelists, who each spoke on a different career-related topic.

Barbara A. Fiacco, partner at Foley Hoag LLP in Boston, spoke about “Charting Your Course.” She said to remember that YOU are charting your course, YOU have to take charge. “The ship has set sail, you are at the helm and it’s going to go someplace. You have to decide where that will be,” she said.

First, you need a long-term plan. “You might want to start with a five-year plan, or if that seems like too much to think about, maybe a two-year plan,” she said. “Think about the skills you’ll need to develop as you get to each decision point in your career. Will you stay at your firm or go solo?” And don’t be afraid to ask for help, she advised. ”We all need mentors. But don’t sit around and wait for the perfect mentor. Instead, surround yourself with people you admire for different reasons who can mentor you in different areas of your life.” She also said you should factor your priorities into your plan– what you need to be happy in this career. And finally, once you have your plan, break it down into short-term goals.

Next was Susan Fried, of K&L Gates LLP in Boston, on “Showcasing Your Value.” Fried said showcasing your value comes naturally to some people, while others think it’s just bragging. “You have to find your own way but you can’t avoid the concept of raising your visibility and showcasing your value,” she said. “You have to find value that’s true to yourself. You have to remember it’s about informing people about what you can do, what you’re capable of. You also need to project confidence. It’s not arrogance, it’s a sense of who you are and that you’re capable -- and that inspires others to put their trust in you.”

Next was Stewart Hirsch, of Strategic Relationships, Sharon, Mass., on “Building a Book of a Business.”  In order to be successful in a law firm today, you must have a business development plan, he said, adding that he wrote an article for the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division, “A Seven-Step Framework for Developing Business.” Very briefly, the seven steps are:

  1. Set goals
  2. Implement a plan
  3. Set priorities
  4. Persevere
  5. Access people
  6. Recognize opportunities
  7. Take action

“The best tip I can give you is this: Follow up. Stay in touch with new acquaintances,” he said. “Every time you make a new connection, follow up with a message or phone call and ask for the next step. Ask them, can we meet again? Let’s set a date and get it on the calendar.”

Next was David Paige of Legal Fee Advisors in New York, speaking on “Dealing with Dollars with Sense.” Paige said people love their lawyers, but what every client fears is the bill. “Here’s the basic concept: communicate with your client about their money from the first moment you meet them.” That means clarity and communication. It means budgets and estimations and no surprises.  “Think about billing from the point of view of the client. It’s not about us, it’s about them.”

Rounding out the panel was Nancer Ballard, of Dain Torpy Le Ray Wiest & Garner, on “Handling Particular Challenges in Legal Careers.” Ballard said that whether you’re considering a change or reflecting on where you are now, remember why you became a lawyer in the first place. “Whatever it is, there are certain themes that will always be important to you, and when you figure out what those are they will help guide you in all your decision making. Take time every year and think about what you feel in your heart about what you believe represents success. Then tack, like a boat, toward that success.” There’s no one way to develop your ideal career. No matter what stage of your career you’re in, what matters most is that you feel valued. 

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