September 01, 2016 GP Mentor

GP Mentor: What I Wish I Had Known about Leadership

Soo Yeon Lee

The first several years as a new lawyer are like the first years of a newborn. They are spent learning basic skills necessary to survive the world in which we will be called lawyers. Just as babies learn life skills such as walking and feeding themselves, we learn lawyer skills so we can be independent in handling a case. Just like a baby’s first step, there are lawyer milestones, such as the first argument before a judge, the first deposition, the first trial, the first closing, and the first client of our own.

Whatever your practice setting, find your home. That is where you grow up into a competent lawyer. In a world where you are bombarded by pressures of proving yourself to partners, judges, and clients, it is difficult to see where you are on your own growth chart. Even once you feel that you have mastered basic survivor skills after several years of work and have become somewhat confident in what you do, it is vital to be mindful of and stay intentional in your development and professional growth.

Be a Willing Lawyer

For a long time there was something that I couldn’t quite figure out about the David and Goliath story. What made David go forward against Goliath? I wanted to summon the bravery of David in my own life, but I needed more explanation to internalize this metaphor. Nothing quite satisfied me until it occurred to me that David must have known. He must have known—in his heart, even if he might not have said much to anyone—that the little weapon he had, a sling and some stones, could potentially have a fatal impact on Goliath. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book David and Goliath, explains that David’s sling in conjunction with the type of rocks used is not a child’s toy but is roughly equal to the stopping power of a handgun. Knowing the power of his weapon, David then was willing to go forward and fight Goliath. Essentially, David was ready, willing, and able.

As lawyers, we spend years getting ready and able. What is missing in so many of us is the willing part. This is what makes us leaders. This is what makes us go beyond our comfort zone and stretch ourselves, ultimately benefiting us and others around us. Most of the time, however, all that is required of us is to be ready and able. Being a willing lawyer is neither easy nor always practical. Our license only requires us not to commit malpractice. As long as we do not go below the minimum of what’s expected, no one will blame us. But tapping into the power of willingness will help you achieve so much more in this self-navigating profession.

While you are getting ready and able, really enjoy what you do. Financial rewards are important, so know the value of your services and make sure your services are appropriately appreciated by your clients. Taste the deeply satisfying feeling coming from accomplishing a true success for your clients. Then, be a willing lawyer. When you feel as if what you do is just an extra, something you could do without, think of it as training your muscle. When you feel the stretch, that’s when you get stronger and healthier. And along your journey, you will inspire others. Without even realizing it, you will become a leader and your boundary lines will expand.

Just Be a leader

It is always nice to be recognized as a leader by others. However, there are times when you are the only one to recognize your own abilities. No one thought David would be able to defeat Goliath. But he, himself, thought so. Look at your own experiences and the skills you have garnered over the years. Your cases may not have been as fancy as cases involving Fortune 500 companies. Your deals may have been small. Your cases may be the type that no news media would be interested in reporting. From an outside perspective, your experiences and abilities may seem less significant, just as David’s abilities from Goliath’s perspective. However, don’t forget that you are the only one who truly knows and appreciates the skills and knowledge you have and any potential impact you can make in your clients’ cases or in any other endeavors. When you know it, even if no one else knows, be willing to step up. And show the world that you are ready and able.

Soo Yeon Lee

Soo Yeon Lee is a partner at Gordon & Centracchio, LLC, Chicago, where she focuses her practice in litigation, commercial real estate, and business and estate planning.