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Skill Building

Keep Growing: What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

By Chris Hargreaves

It’s always interesting to me how many lawyers still think a successful law practice centers on knowing lots of legal principles. The reality is, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s true that you know how to read analytically, how to quickly assess, review and assimilate case law and statutes. You have a good appreciation of the sheer depth and complexity of legal analysis. These things are necessary but insufficient.

We’re Really Not an Academic Profession

Your ability to study the law is useful, but only to serve your clients. You need to ensure you are constantly building skills to underpin and deliver on the benefits of your legal knowledge.

First comes communication. If you cannot translate the law for your client in a consumable way, then your brainpower is wasted and, ultimately, not very useful. That means you need to be able to communicate with your clients in a way they actually understand, appreciate and adopt.

Beyond communication comes commerce. Any lawyer who wants to advance needs to have a deeper appreciation of how law firms make money. Specifically, a good understanding of how revenue, productivity and leverage interact to achieve profitability. That means you need to delegate well. It means you need to use technology well. It means you need to know how to focus, how to get jobs done, how to accelerate your team’s productivity. It also means you need to actively look for ways to maximize profit by balancing those factors.

Next comes the ability to build a network and market effectively. Lack of early investment here can make later life as a lawyer extremely. Unfortunately, many lawyers neglect paying attention to this aspect of their career until it’s too late, when they simply don’t have the tools and the habits to market effectively. Building a network is a long game — no matter what stage you are at, you should start now.

You must also become a team player. If you want to build your practice, you can’t simply ignore the people in your firm you don’t get along with. Maybe you have to work with the secretary who can’t stand you. Maybe you have to work closely with the grumpiest partner in the building. How are you going to do that? What strategies will you use to manage? Locking yourself in your office (if you have one) and closing your eyes to the outside world is not the way to develop a successful practice. You need to manage these people effectively — whether they be up, down, left or right.

Beyond working with people, you must learn to lead them. Traditionally, partnership has been offered to technically superior lawyers with high billable budgets. Today, more firms are looking for lawyers who can also manage and lead a team of people. Why? Because a well-functioning team is more profitable.

Step Away from the Daily Grind

Consider each of these areas as you work through the day. Step back and take the time to look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself, “How am I developing my skills as a lawyer?”

If the answer is “I’m not,” then you need to start. Today.

No matter how senior you are — you can’t stop progressing. What got you here, won’t get you there.

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Chris Hargreaves

Chris Hargreaves is the author of “In Practice — Moving Beyond Law School Theory.” He is a senior litigation lawyer in Brisbane, Australia, and writes regularly about legal skills on his site, Tips For Lawyers. Follow Chris on Twitter @JoyousLawyer.

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