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!