Taking proactive steps now will help ensure that you control your own fate-and achieve success as a partner for the long term. Follow these pointers on self-assessment, goal setting, skills development and building your own book of business.
Now that you’ve successfully completed your journey from associate to partner, you’ve probably noticed that things look a bit different from the driver’s seat. Bigger risks, bigger rewards—and different avenues waiting to be explored. It’s exhilarating and, at times, a bit disorienting. What’s the secret to staying on track to meeting your goals? Putting the following pointers into action will help ensure your success as a partner.
Assess Yourself In-depth
A successful lawyer understands his or her strengths and looks for ways to maximize them, while also managing individual weaknesses. This process is especially important for new partners as they identify which roles and responsibilities to undertake to further their individual careers and contribute to their firms.
You can gather objective feedback about yourself with tools like DiSC, Meyers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, 360-degree feedback tools and other assessment resources. Videotaping yourself while giving speeches and mock client interviews can also provide helpful insights. You want to honestly face your limitations and look for ways to manage them.
Some lawyers struggle with time management, delegation, communication, public speaking, leadership or staying motivated.
For many, generating business proves challenging. For example, one young partner at a major international firm recently said to me, “I am afraid of client development. That’s why I chose this area of the law.” She had selected a highly technical legal specialty, hoping that more-senior partners would feed her work. She discovered, however, that her firm expected her to bring in clients, too.
If this is your case, as it often is with young partners, remember that what you are facing isn’t so much an obstacle as an opportunity—an opportunity to learn to overcome a limitation that could hold you back in your career. If business development seems daunting, what should you do? Develop—with help from peers, senior partners and a coach, if needed—a rainmaking style that works for you, given your unique talents, personality traits and preferences. In other words, if you know your weaknesses, they can be improved and managed with training and mentoring.
Likewise, once you identify your strengths, you can look for ways to maximize them. For example, if a lawyer is shy but writes clearly and easily without legalese, the lawyer should write articles for publication as a marketing tool. Conversely, lawyers with stellar speaking skills should showcase their expertise through frequent public presentations. In-depth self-assessments are vital for clarifying individual strengths and weaknesses.
Solidify Your Goals
Where do you want to be a year from now? How about five years from now? Articulating your personal goals and committing them to paper can spur you toward achieving them.
Most lawyers think analytically. Accordingly, consider charting your longer-term goals and breaking them down into smaller goals—such as weekly and monthly goals. Measure your progress regularly and reward yourself at certain milestones. Some lawyers use visual aids—like photos of desired goals (e.g., vacation homes or cars)—to motivate themselves. You should place the visual aid (or other reminder) where you will see it frequently.
If you have trouble articulating your goals, brainstorm with a creative friend about your dreams. Write down as many goals as you can, and then break those down into the specific action steps needed to achieve them.
Master the Art of Multiple Connections
Many lawyers shy away from what we commonly call networking. If you dislike the idea of “networking,” try to view it as “connecting” instead. This means, to paraphrase Keith Ferrazzi’s
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, sharing knowledge and resources, time and energy, friends and associates, and empathy and compassion in a continual effort to provide value to others, while coincidentally increasing your own value. The next time you attend a social event, try to “connect” with others rather than “network” with them. You are bound to feel better about your experience.
Also, young partners looking for referrals should seek out “connectors.” As described in Malcolm Gladwell’s
Tipping Point, connectors love to connect people to other people and resources for the sheer joy of doing so.
New partners should also contemplate informal strategic alliances with lawyers and non-lawyers who serve the same client base. For example, an estate planning lawyer who wants to help wealthy families could develop relationships with bankers, financial planners and even real estate brokers who serve those clients.
Effectively connecting with prospects, referral sources and others who can help expand your professional and social spheres really boosts business generation.
Polish Your Personal Brand
“To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” So wrote Tom Peters in his much-quoted
Fast Company article “The Brand Called You” (August/September 1997).
What comes to mind when others think of you? Do they think of a highly skilled and personable lawyer who gets the job done well in a timely manner? Or do they perhaps think of something less flattering, like a lawyer who rarely returns phone calls the same day? Your personal brand is what sets you apart and defines you. It’s what comes to mind when people think about you—so you want your brand to be overwhelmingly positive.
Even the most diligent lawyers need to polish their personal brands. For example, I worked with one talented lawyer who unwittingly tarnished his reputation by acting rude and confrontational at his children’s sports events. In his mind, these events were “after hours” and had nothing to do with his professional life. However, the other parents were fellow professionals—and they certainly noticed his behavior. He had to work hard after the fact to improve his reputation and repair his brand.
For insights into your brand, use this easy exercise. Send an e-mail to 10 to 20 colleagues, peers and clients and ask them to respond with 5 to 10 words or phrases—both positive and negative—that describe you. Examine the feedback that they send and strive to change unflattering traits, such as “tardy” or “self-centered.”
Develop Your Skills and Support Base
You should always be on the watch for ways to enhance your skills set—both your legal knowledge (such as understanding a new practice area) and your soft skills (like communication or team-building skills). For example, do you need to enhance your delegation skills to increase your productivity? Taking proactive steps to improve your skills set will impress firm leadership and highlight your willingness to continue learning and growing.
Of course, no one can do it all on their own so it is also important to develop a good support system of people ready to help you grow your practice and continually learn more. If you do not have a mentor, seek one out. Ask your mentor for recommendations about serving on firm committees and taking other leadership roles. Similarly, willingly mentor younger associates. Not only will this ensure that your firm has a good talent pool, but it will also create goodwill between you and the associates. When they make partner, they will recall your helpful mentoring.
Likewise, be sure to cultivate good relations with support staff and marketing personnel. You will distinguish yourself favorably by treating them well—and they can teach you many things about how the firm really works. As a new partner, you will need to rely on their knowledge more than you might suspect.
Finally, create accountability. Create it for your staff and team to bolster your support system. Also, create it for yourself to support your career growth. Studies show that people follow through on tasks more thoroughly when they are held accountable by someone. Have a friend, colleague or coach hold you accountable for your career progress.
As a young partner, you have nearly limitless opportunity to launch your career forward. Implement strategies like these and you will watch your career skyrocket.