As a young lawyer, you owe it to yourself to become a better lawyer - to constantly improve your skills -whether its your writing, your research, taking a deposition or arguing a motion. With an ever more competitive work force, getting by is a sure way of falling behind. To stay ahead of the curve, consider the following suggestions to build yourself into a better lawyer.
Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Start by being honest with yourself. Sit down with a pad and pen, and write down a list of your strengths and a list of your weaknesses. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t be too easy.
Address the weaknesses. Pick one or two of the weaknesses, and commit to working on them for the next year. Set realistic goals on how you can overcome your weaknesses and commit to achieving those goals. Is your writing just average? Set realistic goals on improving it, such as reading grammar and style books, taking a writing course or getting an article published.
Build on the strengths. Pick one or two of your strengths, and commit to making them even better. If you want to set yourself apart from other lawyers, don’t just be a strong writer, be a great writer. Don’t just be good at taking depositions, be great at taking them. Consider taking CLE classes, reading books and thinking outside the box for other opportunities.
Find a role model and emulate him. To get better, you have to find better attorneys and do what they do. Is there an attorney you admire at your firm? Does he take killer depositions? Is she a great rainmaker? Study them. What do they do that you’re not doing? Just as importantly, what don’t they do, that you’re doing? Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing something right. Figure out what that is and copy it.
Read others’ transcripts. Read the hearing and deposition transcripts of other attorneys. What do they tell the judge? How do they argue their clients’ case? What questions do they ask witnesses at depositions? What questions don’t they ask? If you want to improve your oral advocacy skills, you need to read how others do it. If you want to take a better depositions, read how others take theirs. And don’t limit yourself to reading the transcripts of just the top partners. Read the transcripts of as many attorneys you can get your hands on. Study the different styles. You can learn something from every attorney in your office. If nothing else, you can learn how not to do things and what approaches are not particularly effective.
Read others’ writings. In addition to reading others’ transcripts, read others’ writing. Read other attorneys’ briefs, memos, motions, letters to clients and other such documents. Study the attorneys’ style, word choice, the arguments they make, how they make them and ask yourself if the writing convinces you, moves you, changes you. See what works and what doesn’t, and strive to emulate what you feel works and avoid what doesn’t.
Study others’ resumes. Visit the web sites of other firms, pull up the profiles of their attorneys and study their resumes. See what they’ve accomplished. What organizations do they belong to? What have they’ve written? Where have they spoken? Attorneys’ resumes show you what goals they have achieved. Looking at others’ resumes makes you think what goals you want to set for yourself and some ideas of how to achieve them. Perhaps you can get ideas of publications that accept articles from attorneys, seminars to speak at or organizations to join.
Keep going to school. You’re never too old to learn something new. Don’t take the minimum number of CLE credits you have to take. Consider attending an extra seminar or two during the year. If you, as so many of us, don’t have the time to attend more seminars, consider listening to CLE tapes in your car.
Set goals and strive for them. Ask yourself the question, "Where do I want to be five years from now?" Do I want to be at the same firm? Do I want to be a partner at the firm? Do I want to be considered an expert in a particular field of law? Ask yourself where you want to be, devise a plan on how to get there and execute it.
Never be satisfied. Never rest. Never be complacent. Never be satisfied with what you’ve accomplished. As you stand still, others are running past you. They’re getting better as you stay the same. Eventually, they will pass you and others will pass you, and your great skills, by comparison, won’t be so great anymore. Strive for more.