Working in law can be immensely rewarding, but it isn’t easy. It will take smarts and dedication (not to mention some loans) to get through law school, pass the bar, and land a job as a professional attorney. But your work is far from done after that! Simply putting in the hours and doing good work won’t be enough to make you a true star of the legal profession. Here’s what you need to do to succeed in law.
Lawyers can do incredible things for their clients but you shouldn’t count on your reputation for success to precede you. Word of mouth may work well for mom and pop shops and doctors, but it may not be too helpful for you. A big award in a personal injury case is nice, but word of your success may not reach the next potential client unless they happen to be pals with the last guy you helped.
That’s part of why lawyers need to invest in marketing, explain experts who specialize in marketing for attorneys. And we find another reason in the way in which would-be clients look for attorneys: Google! The Yellow Pages are a thing of the past now, and search engines are the new normal. If your practice is a few spots below the competition in Google search results for relevant terms, then you’re going to miss out on some big cases. So invest in marketing support from a team that specializes in marketing for attorneys and that can help you with both physical and digital marketing, including search engine optimization, or “SEO.”
Establish a personal and professional network
It would be nice if your hard work and great results alone were all that determined the trajectory of your career. But that’s not true, of course! You’ll need some help.
Attorneys should be social within and outside of their professional. While word-of-mouth may not be as effective as great marketing, it’s a great supplement to an ad campaign; while a billboard and SEO get strangers to your door, you may also find time to help out a neighbor or a pal from the country club who comes to you because they know you personally. That’s business for your practice (and, perhaps, a good network contact for your personal needs — someone to call when you need quick medical advice or legal representation that falls outside of your own area of expertise).
You should also, of course, network within your profession. Help out other attorneys and get to know them. You never know who you might be working with someday — or who might recommend you for a job, interview you for a partnership, or ask you to go off and start a new practice with them.
Look the part
Attorneys have to nail the details in every case — and they have to nail the details when dealing with clients, too! Just like other professionals who rely on their expertise, lawyers help people who only rarely fully understand what is being done on their behalf. And, just as you would be uneasy in a dirty, run-down doctor’s office, the people you want to serve may be less inclined to hire and trust you if you, your office, and your employees don’t look quite “right.” Sure, your advice might be good, and your would-be clients don’t have any idea what the right legal move is — but you can’t expect them to guess right if you and your entire operation are giving off sketchy vibes.
This doesn’t mean that a lawyer can’t have a certain hairstyle or anything quite so shallow as that, though a traditionally clean-cut appearance can be as asset with some clients and judges. It does mean, however, that you should dress well. It also means that your firm’s office should always be clean, neat, and organized, and that it should look as much as possible like a law office — decent bookshelves, diplomas on the wall, that sort of thing. Make sure that you’re dressed professionally, that your staff speaks properly and avoids using slang, and that clients and prospective clients get the right impression from the start.