SUCCEEDING BY LEADING
COLLIN COOPER, CLASS OF 2012
ELON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
America’s economic situation has no doubt caused many lawyers to pause and reflect upon their profession’s future—a future where young lawyers are struggling to find success in an ever-changing legal marketplace. What, then, can a lawyer do to improve their chances of survival? Developing leadership skills and professionalism proficiencies can provide a competitive advantage for young attorneys entering into the new economy.
At a minimum, an attorney needs the skills necessary to evaluate the legal consequences of an issue and provide a workable legal solution. However, analytical skills are not always sufficient by themselves. Attorneys often need to think creatively on their feet. This has been particularly true after the crash of the economy and job market, where innovation and problem solving have become a more highly prized skill. Legal professionals who innovate have become more resourceful, forward thinking, and creative in order to meet their client’s needs (and to keep their jobs).
Further, innovative attorneys are better able to meet the needs of today’s clients who, for the most part, are no longer looking for transaction-specific advisors. Rather, they expect their attorney to be able to adapt to new legal and economic trends, to predict how such changes will impact their families or businesses and to advise for current and future contingencies. In other words, today’s clients are expecting advice that simultaneously solves their current problem while avoiding future ones. For these reasons, attorneys must embrace flexibility and learn to be more innovative in an ever-changing legal environment. It will be those innovative lawyers that continue to be successful in today’s job market.
As discussed above, lawyers define and solve problems. Yet, not all problems stem from our individual clients. For example, problems such as terrorism, civil rights, and the current economic recession are all created and fueled by our global society. These problems need well-educated leaders to solve them. Because they are problem-solvers by trade, lawyers are well equipped to help manage these problems if they can learn to adapt and think beyond the strict confines of the law. Although most firms do not require pro bono work, lawyers should become involved in their community outside of the normal law practice. This will enable them to see and to better understand the bigger picture. Through community service and legal pro bono work, attorneys will be able to interact with prospective clients, network, and build relationships in the community-at-large. Lawyers who know their communities, local or national, will be able to empathize with and better relate to their clients. As a result, they will gain the trust of their respective communities and grow to be more successful.
Communication is perhaps the most obvious leadership skill required of lawyers. Whether a lawyer is advocating a client’s position in court, interacting with a prospective or current client, collaborating with a colleague, or timely responding to voicemails and emails, communication is key to making a good impression—it is, in fact, the skill that brings all the others together. A lawyer who is a good communicator is able not only to make the client feel at ease, but may avert their problem altogether through persuasive negotiation.
The practice of law goes beyond merely reading cases and statutes, or drafting contracts. Young lawyers and young lawyers-to-be must begin to cultivate and practice leadership skills as early as possible. Through innovative thinking, social responsibility, and communication, a developing lawyer not only betters herself for her individual practice, but she also helps to define and solve greater societal problems.
This is a modified version of a previously published article entitled Leadership in the Law, initially published in the January 2011 edition of the NC YLD’s Law Student Division Bulletin.