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The Friday Five

Your Next Big Step: Career Experts’ Advice

By Wendy Werner

While the path ahead is uncertain, change creates opportunities for innovation — including new careers. Legal careers expert Wendy Werner asked a few smart people for their best advice in response to this question: “What’s the one thing a new lawyer should do right now to prepare for tomorrow’s law jobs?”

Passing the Bar Is the Starting Place, Not the Destination

1. Be Fearless! While change is happening, the legal profession as a whole continues to place a high value on “prestige.” There are still those who will try to tell you that these newer options are geared toward those who could not secure the traditional “prestigious” jobs, rather than those who choose not to pursue those paths. Be confident in your own definition of “success” and the choices you make about how you want to live your life. If YOU believe you are successful, the rest of the world will, too!
Kathleen Brady, career/life management coach, author and trainer, and Kanarek and Brady.

2. Develop a “T-shape” of Skills. While a lawyer needs deep legal knowledge and skill (the T’s vertical line), successful lawyers of the future will also need the ability to communicate and collaborate across multiple disciplines, such as business, analytics and technology (the T’s horizontal line). For example, the “legal knowledge engineer” identified by Richard Susskind and now employed in many legal service companies needs legal knowledge and research skills, but also must use technology to translate that knowledge into expert systems. The “T-shape” concept, often credited to IDEO, has become popular in other industries and is apt in law as well.
R. Amani Smathers, Innovation Counsel, ReInvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State University College of Law.

3. Develop a Personal Brand. In the restructured legal environment, new lawyers must stand out from the pack. That means they need to develop a reputation early on for taking the initiative to solve problems, providing value to clients and cultivating business connections. To set themselves apart, new lawyers also need to spread the word about their skills, accomplishments and connections. Using a variety of approaches is best, but business social media sites and in-person connections are both critical.
Grover E. Cleveland, attorney, speaker and author of “Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer.”

4. Learn about Project Management and Process Improvement. This includes learning how to leverage technology to deliver legal and law-related services more efficiently and effectively. Lawyers who have this knowledge and skill set will be better positioned to respond to a marketplace in which legal work is increasingly disaggregated, unbundled, automated, outsourced and managed in entirely new ways. Because of these fundamental changes, the skills that lawyers traditionally learn in law school and the early years of practice are no longer enough for continued professional success.
Andrew Perlman, Professor, Suffolk University Law School, Director, Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation and Director of the law school’s Legal Technology and Innovation Concentration.

5. Be Curious about the World Outside Your Office. Get out and connect with others. You are much more likely to become aware of changes in the marketplace, including new practice models and career paths, if you take advantage of opportunities to interact with others. Alumni events, bar associations, business groups, community organizations and continuing legal education seminars are just some of the ways you can meet new people, expand your professional network and learn about career opportunities. Take the initiative to expand your horizons.
Marcia Pennington Shannon, Assistant Dean, Career Services, Georgetown Law.

As for my best advice, new lawyers need to be able to articulate their value proposition — to a potential employer or to their own clients. You must know what you are good at and how it would serve your employer or your clients. What are you passionate about? Focus on ways that you can assist an employer or client. What special abilities do you have that would help you generate revenue, serve clients and provide service? And beyond that, know what skills you would like to further develop. Having your law license is the starting place, not the destination.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Friday Five, Legal Career Development, New Lawyers, You At Work
Originally published April 18, 2014
Last updated August 3, 2023
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Wendy Werner

Wendy Werner was an acclaimed photographer, a sought-after career strategist and social justice advocate. A longtime career coach and practice management consultant at Werner Associates, Wendy most recently served as ArchCity Defenders’ founding board chair, stewarding the organization for over 12 years as it became an established force for justice in the St. Louis region. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and served on several ABA Law Practice Division boards, including as chair of the Publishing Board. Wendy died at her home in Saint Louis on January 3, 2022, after a long battle with cancer. She was 69.


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