Two different attorneys approached me recently looking for jobs. Both were self-confident men who had every reason to be successful but will not be. Both attended top law schools and did extremely well there. Both got jobs in major law firms out of law school but had recently lost their jobs. One was fired and the other quit.
Both attorneys made the same fundamental career mistake but in different ways. The attorney who was fired approached his career tactically but not strategically, while the attorney who quit approached his career strategically but not tactically. You must be both strategic and tactical to be truly successful in your legal career.
The Purely Tactical Attorney
The attorney who was fired had worked in an extremely prestigious New York law firm for exactly one year before he was let go. He had grades that put him among the top 10 or so graduating students in a top 5 law school. He had a history of stellar academic and life achievement and by all indications he should have had a very promising future in the legal profession. His downfall was his lack of strategy.
Things started off well for him at the firm. He worked very hard on the matters he was given. But he was very, very smart (perhaps too smart for his own good), and he soon began to make the mistake of questioning aspects of his assignments. He went back to the assigning partners and told them that some of the work was completely unnecessary because (1) it would never help the client and (2) it was a waste of money for the client. He believed the assignments and the work he was being asked to do were wasting the client’s money.
This did not go over well with the people who were assigning him the work.
He got into his first performance review and was told in no uncertain terms that he should leave the firm. He was told that he could spend the next few months looking for a position and “good luck.” He now goes into work each day with very little to do.