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A Lawyer's Paths to Success

by Ed Poll

Successful lawyers tend to work long hours and are focused and passionate about what they do. But the billable hour is only a method of accounting; it is not the reason for working long hours. Our success motivation as lawyers comes from loving what we do, from wanting to help people and from needing to take care of our families and ourselves. But in the effort to excel, made more intense by the pressure of economics, trying too hard to succeed can cause problems for lawyers who cannot see that their striving for success has become counterproductive.

So, in this context, how can lawyers become more successful in their practices? The answer lies, not in earning more money or racking up more billable hours, but in moving one's professional life down as many of these paths as possible.

  • Do what you love. Passionate, satisfied attorneys perform better, deliver higher quality legal services and gets better results for their clients. They feel better about their career and themselves. Attorneys who are not happy need to refocus.

  • Put the client first. In any successful business, the customer is number one. For lawyers, this means treating every client like your only client. Clients are primarily concerned about the commitment of their attorney to their matter and their relationship with their attorney. Grateful and appreciative clients will always be there when this attitude is genuinely felt.

  • Think like an owner. With this mindset, everything that occurs in the firm's day-to-day operation is your responsibility. Your actions should be based on keeping clients and increasing the firm's revenues and profits, a sure recipe for personal success.

  • Be a problem-solver. Instead of just reacting, look ahead for solutions. Too many good attorneys are so busy with immediate concerns that they cannot look forward for ways to solve future problems.

  • Never stop learning. Successful lawyers always continue their education and take more than the minimum CLE requirements. It is impossible to know everything in any one field, but you should continue to learn new trends and update old thinking.

  • Develop business competency. It's important to speak the language of business clients, not offer just shallow chit-chat about the family or golf. Advice from a lawyer who knows the client's business and industry builds the client's trust and confidence.

  • Treat colleagues as clients and integrate your practice with others in the firm. An outstanding and underused source of new business is your own colleagues and the variety of relationships that they have with the outside world. The more people who have a stake in your success, the greater it will be.

  • Make yourself invaluable by going the extra mile and providing a service that clients feel they must have. Know your clients' business and anticipate their future problems. Suggest articles or webinars on new business trends and don't charge for it. When you become truly invaluable to a client, you will always compete successfully for their business.

  • Treat everyone clients, colleagues and contacts alike with civility and respect. The truly successful person never has to worry about the comments made by others when out of earshot.

Copyright 2011. Edward Poll. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Edward Poll.

About The Author

Ed Poll principal of LawBiz Management Company, is a nationally recognized coach, law firm management consultant, and author who has coached and consulted with lawyers and law firms in strategic planning, profitability analysis, and practice development. Mr. Poll has practiced law on all sides of the table for 25 years-- as a corporate general counsel, government prosecutor, sole practitioner, partner, and law firm chief operating officer and been a consultant to small and large law firms for 20 years.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.