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Pack a Bag for the Future of Law

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Here’s the situation. You’re stranded in a future legal market, vast and unfamiliar, and you need to launch a new legal career. Luckily, you get to start off with several skills and talents in place — but it’s a limited quantity, and you’ll need to choose carefully. Which ones will help you the most?

That’s the situation as we proposed it in a survey recently conducted with Jordan Furlong’s Law21 blog. Inspired by his new ebook, Evolutionary Road: A Strategic Guide to Your Law Firm’s Future, we wanted to find out what you think is going to be important for a lawyer’s success in this changing world.

What You Said Will Be Most Important in the Future

So, where are lawyers investing energy for their future? We gave you 15 characteristics to rank and received many thoughtful responses. To start, here are the five things respondents most frequently scored highly, or most important to them.

1. EQ: Your high emotional intelligence fosters great relationships, especially with clients.
2. Connections: Strong and productive relationships with clients in your chosen field.
3. Moral Fiber: You’re renowned for strength of character and high levels of integrity.
4. Legal Knowledge: Good old-fashioned legal know-how, the black-letter kind.
5. Innovation: A talent for and enthusiasm about improving on current practices.

What You Said Was Least Important

Perhaps nearly as revealing is the list of the five things respondents scored the lowest.

11. Risk Acceptance: You’re not averse to risk; you’re confident about taking chances.
12. Nice Niche: Start your career with a strong grasp of a narrow but very promising field.
13. War Chest: A bank balance to help finance many (but not all) of your future needs.
14. Recruiting Prowess: You easily attract talented colleagues and collaborators.
15. Famous Brand: Start off your new career widely known and respected in your field.

So What?

So — just overgeneralizing here — to succeed in the future, most respondents believe you must be a well-connected and effective lawyer with the ability to build strong personal relationships and solve problems creatively.

Hmm. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that sounds exactly like what a lawyer needs to be successful NOW. While, naturally, those attributes have and always will be highly valued, let’s assume that’s who you already are.

Here’s my personal list of characteristics any lawyer heading off down Evolutionary Road will also need in the overhead compartment.

1. Audacity. The business of law isn’t going to get any simpler, that’s for sure. And face it, some pretty aggressive innovators are already out there threatening to “eat your lunch.” You can’t stay in the hunt by hanging back and waiting to see what happens, or for the “right conditions.” When you do leap into something new, the chances of it being perfect the first time are slim. You are going to learn the most useful things by making the biggest mistakes. This is going to take the heart of a lion!

2. Focus. Things are going to get a little distracting around here, too. “Sound and fury signifying nothing” could well become the order of the day. Already, long-standing bastions of the legal profession are falling with attendant hysterical flapping of wings and tearing of clothing. Amid the chaos it will be critical to focus, focus, focus.

3. Common sense. Creative ideas are one thing. But a practical, matter-of-fact way of approaching or assessing situations or of solving problems is going to serve you well. Theoretical possibilities are important in the beginning, but the ability to quickly get to the practical application part is something else entirely.

4. Independence. Those who responded to the survey clearly recognize that having a big name or a “famous brand” is no longer what it once was. The sanctuary of the big partnership … isn’t anymore. So, even if the future finds you in a big organization, you’re going to need to be a bit of a cowboy to make it. Your clients will care less about your fancy brand and more about what you and your mobile technology can do for them when your boots are in the stirrups.

5. A Sense of humor. Take your work seriously — and yourself lightly. Things are going to happen along this road. Unexpected things. Embarrassing things. Catastrophic things. A well-developed funny bone will see you through most of it. And besides, they say humor releases negative emotions, reduces inhibitions, improves self-confidence and increases your enthusiasm for work. Now that’s no joke!

Over at Law21, Jordan offers his smart and thoughtful analysis of the survey results.

What’s In Your Survival Kit?

Whether you completed the survey online or not, we’re interested in hearing more about your take on this question. What’s in your survival kit for the emerging profession of law?

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is Partner/Catalyst at Attorney at Work, a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow her on Twitter @astintarlton.


Illustration ©

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Future Law, Innovation, You At Work
Originally published August 16, 2013
Last updated October 16, 2018
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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