Legal Career Resources

Move from Apprentice to Builder to See Success in Your Legal Career
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Summary: The two stages of an attorney’s legal career are crucial for setting up a successful and long future as an attorney.

To make a full career out of being an attorney, an eye towards long-term success is essential. Many attorneys lack this ability and fail before even making it through the beginning stages of their career. In the article “Apprentice and Builder: The Two Stages of a Law Firm Attorney’s Legal Career” by Harrison Barnes, an attorney’s legal career is split into two stages. First you need to understand the two stages.


The apprentice stage is when an attorney is starting out, learning all they can and building a reputation for themselves. This stage takes some time to do it correctly but most attorneys try to rush through it, missing very important lessons that will affect their future success. Barnes estimates that attorneys need to be an apprentice for at least five years before they can transition to the next stage of their career.

The building stage happens once an attorney has completed their time as an apprentice and can now build their own business. The actions that builders will take bring in business, edging them closer to being successful rainmakers. Builders are able to do their own work instead of relying on others to assign it to them. They are in the process of training those in the apprentice stage. Most attorneys don’t make it to this stage because they are not successful as apprentices and do not develop the proper skills for their career.

The things you gain as an apprentice:

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  1. An apprentice can learn to be the best possible in their practice area by working long hours for a big law firm. This experience gives the attorney the practice they need in their practice area to be the best. The prestige of the law school they graduate from will only carry them so far until their ability as a law firm is what will continue to carry them along to a successful career.
  2. A network of allies will provide you with opportunities should the need arise. In order to get allies, you have to work hard and produce good work for them. Working so that you have allies dedicated to you will be useful in your career when you need advice, a reference, or other help. The benefit to a strong reference may be the tipping factor of whether you get a coveted job later.
  3. Think of it like a paid internship where you get the perks of learning the tricks of the trade while being paid nicely. In other professions, an apprentice gets paid very little for their hard work.
  4. Apprentices get to see the example of someone who is a builder and possibly even be mentored by them. The opportunity to have a mentor guide you past mistakes that could prove to be costly is invaluable.
  5. The longer you work in the position of an apprentice, the more you can perfect your skill. There is a lot to learn as an attorney so getting all the practice and support they can lead to a longer, more successful career as an attorney.

To be a successful builder, you must do these things:

  1. You have to first be a successful apprentice.
  2. A builder is independent in their career. They have clients that can support their career and can continue to bring in more clients to make themselves successful. With a big book of business supporting them, they won’t have to be stressed about their legal career. The best builders are able to enjoy their job.
  3. Builders will possess an authority in the market. With authority, many more doors will be opened. They can give talks, write papers, advice clients, attract more clients, etc.
  4. The best builders will be known among other attorneys for their success. Builders will have a higher status which will continue to attract more clients.
  5. Builders are able to keep growing. They have clients coming in steadily and the respect of others in the industry. The opportunities to become bigger and better are endless.

Why do you think the apprentice stage is so important? Tell us in the comments below.

To learn more about being a successful attorney, read these articles:



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