Did you love law school? Or did you hate it?
Regardless of how you felt about your experience, you will probably agree that law school gave you two things:
You got a foundation in the law by studying the basics: constitutional law, contracts, torts, criminal law and procedure, and real property.
And you learned how to “think like a lawyer.” (So you can never think like a normal person again!)
Once you start practicing law, though, you may have come to realize that law school didn’t teach you what you really need to know in order to be successful. Here are 7 things that law school never taught you but you really need to know.
In order to serve your clients effectively and ethically and ensure repeat client business, it is important that you learn how to effectively communicate with your clients, explaining complex legal concepts in a way that they will understand.
In addition, effective client communication often involves displaying genuine compassion. Lawyers frequently need to deal with upset, angry, or scared clients who might feel helpless and uncertain about their future. Always try to be understanding, try to see things from their point of view, and develop patience when dealing with your clients. Improving your one-on-one communication skills will create trust between the two of you, deepening the lawyer-client relationship.
While many people will tell you that learning effective communication skills is something that can only come with experience, it turns out that effective communication can be learned.
How to Be an Entrepreneur
Owning and operating your own law office makes you an entrepreneur. Beyond the courtroom or the conference room, you need to become an expert at being a small business owner. Learning entrepreneurial skills like marketing, accounting, and employee management are essential to becoming a financially successful lawyer. You will also need to learn how to provide excellent client service to make sure that your clients walk away happy.
Running a successful law practice means that you can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything yourself so you will need support staff. Staff management requires an entirely new skillset. You will need to learn what to look for when interviewing potential employees, how to manage interpersonal office conflicts, and how to develop an office culture that will inspire a happy workplace. If you are can’t afford many employees, you could look to temp services (including those that provide temporary paralegals and lawyers) or virtual assistants to fill the administrative skill gaps in your office.
Marketing and Branding
Things are incredibly competitive out there in the legal world. You need to learn how to market your law practice and create an effective and engaging brand. Otherwise, you blend in and become a commodity, rather than standing out and being in demand
When developing a brand, you need to identify what differentiates you from other law firms. Why should people come to you when they need help instead of the lawyer down the street? Once you’ve figured this out, it’s time to invest in a professionally designed logo anda functional and mobile-optimized website, develop your social media channels and ensure that your messaging is consistent whether you are engaged in one-to-one networking or using one-to-many marketing methods such as social media, speaking, writing or advertisingMarketing your law practice can feel like a full-time job, but without it, bringing in new clients will be almost impossible.
Because people do business with those they know, like, and trust, an important method of bringing new faces to your law office is effective networking. This can include traditional face-to-face interactions along with online networking.
Face-to-face meetings with potential clients, fellow lawyers, and other professionals in related industries can help get your name out there and bring in referrals. Networking through social media and other digital avenues can be a fantastic way to make contacts and connect with other professionals, but make sure that you always follow up online connections with real world interaction and that you lead with a desire to serve others, rather than a desire to “get” something or land a client right away.
I’ve written a lot about time management in the past, but I can’t overstate how important effective use of your time is to having a successful law practice. Whether you are billing by the hour, on a flat-fee basis, or on contingency, your time may well be your practice’s most precious asset. If you are like most lawyers, you are wasting tremendous time on administrative tasks and paralegal work rather than investing time in the high-value activities in your practice. In other words, you are performing tasks someone else can do at a lower rate, and not engaging in the tasks that only you can do and that are designed to help grow and sustain your practice.
You must learn how to effectively manage your schedule to minimize the hours you spend doing non-essential tasks and maximize the time you spend on activities that will bring clients and income into your practice.
How and Where to Get Guidance
Law school rarely focuses on the practical ins and outs of the profession. And whether you are in a solo practice or at a large firm, you may feel that you have no one to turn to for help or no one you can really trust. That is why a mentor can be so important.
Having the wisdom and experience of a mentor at your fingertips can make learning the practical realities of being a lawyer a lot smoother, whether you’re just out of law school or have been practicing for some time. The challenge can be finding one (and not just anyone, but someone who will be a good fit for you). Networking and getting involved in the wider legal community can put you in contact with other, more experienced lawyers who might be able to offer you their experience and advice.
If you would like some guidance on how to develop a successful law practice, please contact me today, or follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter, and we can discuss how I can help you earn more income with less stress, work with clients you actually enjoy, and run your practice like a true business.