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How to thrive as a young lawyer in today’s market

On Feb. 8, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Ontario Bar Association Institute’s Young Lawyers Division. The session was called "How to thrive as a young lawyer in today’s market." My discussion was on the “Future of Law, in-house perspective and more great legal advice.” During my session, I discussed the T-Shaped Lawyer, expanded into the plus-shaped value-added lawyer concept and, in essence, finished by rehashing many of the great points made by my co-panelists. As a service to those who were unable to attend, I wanted to summarize and build on some of the great points made by my esteemed presenters.

Flex Legal’s Erin Cowling began our session with a tutorial/sermon on the importance of networking, leveraging social media and business development for young and new lawyers. One especially interesting insight made during her presentation was that “social media now allows for networking you can do while in your pajamas and without having to wash your hair.” This is a great comment and it expands upon an important theme that ran throughout the day, which was: Find what you are good at and what you like to do and make that your niche area or comparative advantage.

As Cowling noted, regardless of your personality and interests, there is no reason why you cannot and should not be networking. But networking does not need to look the same to everyone. As an introvert, you may not necessarily like to attend events and rub shoulders with people, but that does not mean you can’t generate business by being in front of potential clients through social media.   

Lynne Lawson and Mary Paterson focused in greater detail on business development. The key message they sent was that the tough part of business development is obtaining clients. But once you have them, they said, keeping them should be your primary focus. If done correctly, every customer can be a source of repeat business and positive referrals. Some of the key points raised included the importance of keeping clients updated on legal or industry developments, keeping clients informed about their budget expectations (especially if expected to go over a proposed budget) and, most importantly, provide clients with information they need before they even ask for it or know they need it. For example, if the client asks quarterly for an update on your files, send it to them before they need to ask. These strategies are important in helping you retain your hard-fought conquests. 

Focusing more specifically on providing career advice to young lawyers, Ian Hu of LAWPRO made a very important and insightful comment, which was that, in looking at your career, you must “keep plodding along, but keep moving forward. Slowly increase the number of people you know and build a network; it's OK to be the turtle or the hare!!” At times, the trajectory of one’s career is unclear. We are faced with multiple forks on the road and some of the choices may lead you in a direction that you never expected to take, but the key is to focus on what you like, what you are good at and what your priorities in your career and life are. As Led Zeppelin emphasizes in the lyrics of Stairway to Heaven, “Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on.” Keep moving forward, at a pace you are comfortable with, stay positive and keep building your networks.    

Last, but definitely not least, my esteemed friend and colleague Mitch Kowalski threw a bucket of cold water at the audience by highlighting the changes taking place within the legal profession. Most importantly, he also provided them with important advice on the opportunities that will arise from these changes. New lawyers have the opportunity to embrace exponential advancements in technology and AI, to focus on where things can be done better and then go to do it. These opportunities will not be restricted to just lawyers, as “non-lawyers” will increasingly provide solutions and meet these needs, but resourceful, tech-savvy and legally trained lawyers have all the tools they need to compete and succeed, as long as they are willing and able to think outside the box.

I always find these sessions to be very valuable. From the advice and experiences shared, if just a few members of the audience take away and incorporate some of this advice to build a successful practice and a fulfilling career, then we, as panelists, have done our job. We do not have a crystal ball and we cannot be completely certain of where the future is going, but experience is the best teacher and there was a lot of experience in our session. When combined with the drive and ambition of the young lawyers in the audience ready to head out and make their mark, I am confident that the future legal market looks bright and full of opportunities!

  • Getting support to put it into practice.

    Kathryn Szymczyk
    Sounds like an exceptional panel with some very sage advice. I hope the law firms that the participants are going back to provide on going support - experiential learning workshops, coaching - to support these young lawyers in adopting this necessary mindset and putting it into action on a day to day basis. Forming these essential habits and perspectives takes disruption, consistency and time I believe. With some cheerleading thrown in!