Legal Career Resources

8 Tips for a Long and Successful Legal Career
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Regardless if you are a law student or a partner at a large firm, you always need to be one step ahead, thinking about your next move. Even if you have accomplished a great career goal — getting into a top tier law school, landing a fancy job at a Biglaw firm, making partner — you still can’t rest on your laurel, as there is always a new challenge to be unlocked.

Here are eight pieces of career advice:

1. Be Strategically Flexible and Stay Open to Opportunities

For lack of a better metaphor, life is what happens while you are making plans. You might have envisioned to make partner in a Biglaw firm, but you may find yourself working as a legal journalist, and that is fine-nay, it’s fantastic. See, careers often take surprising and unexpected turns, often driven by sheer luck. And in most cases you “make your own luck” by staying open to new opportunities, networking (online or in-person). Even if a job opening might not initially seem like your ‘cup of tea,’ hear the pitch or take the meeting-going to an interview never killed anyone. In pursuing your dream job, you have to be ready to take several detours along the way. This is especially the case as the perpetual changes in the legal field force you to be more flexible. Attorneys who are strategically flexible, make the most of their opportunities on the way to obtain their goal, and ultimately reap tremendous benefits.

2. Never Stop Learning

To stay relevant in a knowledge-driven field like the law, you’ll have to stay abreast of the industry news, as laws change and industries change. If your current job is no longer stimulating enough and you are not learning anything new- then you are just collecting a paycheck- and it might be time to start exploring. While receiving a paycheck is important and nice, you can do that while improving your skills and knowledge at the same time. The significance of research and continual reading cannot be overstated. Just as market research is essential in the business context, it’s equally important in the legal field to stay up to date with current trends. For example, if you’re interested in entertainment law, you should research things and find information from attorneys who have practiced in these areas, etc.

  
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3. It’s Not All About the Big Bucks and Prestige

Many law students want to jumpstart their legal careers by going for the big law firm that offers the heftiest paycheck and the most considerable prestige (which often boils down to prestige, as most of the big law firms pay on the Cravath scale). This is the approach of many students, even though it’s a crude way to pick a firm. The logic is: if you still don’t know what type of law you want to practice, you might as well “start at the top.”

However, a couple of years into your career will give you a better sense of what you actually want to do, and you might want to move to a platform that resonates with your interests and career goals. And, the prestigious firm you picked for starting your career might not be the best place for you.

4. Don’t Go In-House Too Early

 For many Biglaw associates, In-house is the utopia of the legal and many can’t wait to make the jump. However, don’t make the jump too early. When you move to in-house too early in your career, you could be setting yourself up for difficulties down the road. Instead, find the right law firm and build your portfolio in private practice for a few more years. It will prepare you for more significant longevity at an in-house career. According to the former general counsel of Apple, Dan Cooperman, the best time to go in-house is after working four to five years at a firm. That’s the amount of time you need to become confident in at least one area of the law, which will serve you well as in-house counsel and help you get the best work.

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5. Don’t Leave Biglaw Too Late

If you are confident that you don’t want to stick around at the firm and make a run at partnership, then it’s probably time for you to leave. Associates tend to have a sweet spot for leaving Biglaw, somewhere between the third and sixth year. Mostly because it can be tempting to just stick around and collect a sizeable paycheck. However, beyond a certain point, your marketability will drop. When you search for jobs based on the preferred year of law school graduation, you’ll discover a bell-curve distribution: few jobs for lawyers with under two years of experience, plenty of jobs for lawyers with two to six years of experience, and fewer jobs for lawyers with six or more years of experience.

6. Never Stop Networking

It’s been said a thousand times, and it’s getting repetitive, but it’s true. The rewards of networking and maintaining and a highly valuable network are enormous. Attorneys with robust networks have competitive career advantages in the market. They are more connected, referred to more job opportunities, build more successful practices; and can enjoy widespread recognition and reputation. Even though there are many lawyers, you will be shocked at how small the legal field really is when your network expands. 

7. Always Stick to Your Values

Throughout your career, there will be plenty of ‘crossroads opportunities where you can compromise your values. But remember, sticking to your values is maybe the longer but ultimately the only path for a long and successful legal career. As the legal world is microscopic and one wrong move can cost you a lot.

8. Don’t Let Fear Govern Your Career Choices

Lawyers are inborn pessimists, and a lawyer’s natural wiring is to continually predict the worst-case scenario and assess risk. While this is an essential skill to being a good lawyer, it can create a fear-based mentality when both professional and personal choices are in play. While it is a powerful emotion, fear is the enemy of a good choice and it’s crucial to separate your feelings from your ability to objectively assess important career decisions. 



 

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