The Career Advice Lawyers Wish They Had Taken

Written by
Mark Lebetkin, Editor, originally published April 6, 2016

Aug 11, 2017

Aug 11, 2017 • by Mark Lebetkin, Editor, originally published April 6, 2016

Law360, New York (April 6, 2016, 3:44 PM EDT) -- Attorneys looking back on their time practicing law often have regrets — who doesn't, after all? But did a mentor, colleague or friend give advice that, if taken, could have changed the course of their careers? Here, attorneys share the career advice they wish they would have followed. 

Maureen Adolf, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP
"'Hard work is its own reward.' 'Patience is a virtue.' 'Good things come to those who wait.' As a young professional woman, I placed faith in those oft-repeated platitudes. Like many women, my natural inclination was to work hard, keep my head down, get the job done and wait to be recognized. This approach will get you nowhere. By necessity, you must become your own best advocate. Ask for off-cycle raises when you feel you deserve them and can make a credible case. Seek promotional opportunities and ask for challenging assignments."


John F. Baum, Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP
"Law is my second career. Before considering a change from teaching at age 30, I consulted with one of my best friends, who was (and is) a lawyer. The advice was succinct: 'Don't do it.' I ignored that advice and I am very happy to have done so. Advice I wish I had taken was to think more about client development earlier in my career. While focusing on attaining competency as a lawyer, I believe that spending time maintaining existing relationships with people in your market niche and developing new relationships will enhance an attorney's career flexibility and satisfaction later."


James J. Bell, Paganelli Law Group
“In law school, I was often advised to get involved in community activities. But I knew everything and spent my time studying. Big mistake. As a lawyer, I have tried to not let 'billing' replace 'studying.' While it’s important to keep the lights on, community involvement (coldly referred to by some as 'nonbillable time') has a way of restoring balance to your existence. It gives perspective and insight which makes you a better lawyer. Some firms preach billing, but these 'nonbillable' excursions into the world give a lawyer balance (and may even bring in a case or two).”


Christopher B. Fisher, Cuddy & Feder LLP
“Gordon Wilson was a master at integrating quality content into his marketing campaigns and ensuring that his company backed that up with great service and quality. Most importantly, he never lost sight of professional and personal authenticity as the bedrock foundation for any great marketing campaign. Who knew the marketing advice I got in my teens from my grandfather, an entrepreneurial butcher and market owner from the '50s, would come to mind 20 years into my legal career as I lead our firm’s marketing initiatives. I wish I’d heeded his wisdom earlier, given the legal marketplace!”


Irene L. Hosford, Bell Nunnally & Martin LLP
"'Wake up every morning looking for work.’ Over coffee one morning, my first boss told me that was his approach. He didn't really mean it for me — in 1979, it was definitely not a woman's job to develop business. At best, I think my new firm expected me to be a great 'minder' someday. I thought then that I was in law, not sales. Wrong. I eventually learned that every transaction, every meeting, is an opportunity to build relationships and grow business. Since those relationships and that business are my livelihood, I still wake up (most) mornings looking for work."


Shane O’Neill, Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti LLP
“I wish I’d taken the advice to slow down. I went from college, to law school, to a law firm. This year makes 30 years that I’ve been practicing. It wouldn’t matter a bit if it was only 28 years. When younger people ask me now about law school, I tell them the same thing. Don’t be in such a hurry. Take a year or two. Be a lifeguard in Corsica. Tend bar in the Caribbean. Teach skiing in Utah. Whatever. I promise them that, two or three decades into their legal practice, they will never look back and say, 'Damn, so sorry I did that.'”


Joshua Stein, Joshua Stein PLLC
"It takes five years to learn how to do great legal work in your specialty. After that, the key to a successful career in private legal practice consists of having your own clients. You do that by building relationships, getting out there, talking to people, speaking, writing, and not being a jerk — everything except trying to get people to become clients. Sometimes, legal work isn’t much fun, or isn’t even legal work. But you have to do a great job all the time with all of it. Along the way, you will learn way more than you think you’re learning."

--Editing by Mark Lebetkin.