- There is only one thing attorneys need to be successful.
- It does not matter where you went to school or how you did there.
- If you have this characteristic, you will do well.
- I see people fail to reach their full potential DAILY because they do not do this.
- I rarely see people fail who have done this, and if they do, their failure never lasts long.
In two decades of placing attorneys, hiring attorneys, working as an attorney, watching attorneys fail, and watching them succeed, there is only one thing attorneys need to do to be successful. One.
It does not matter where you went to school or how you did there. If you have this characteristic, you will do well. I see people fail to reach their full potential DAILY because they do not do this. I rarely see people fail who have done this, and if they do, their failure never lasts long.
When I was about ten years old, my stepfather was dying of cancer. After having many organs removed, countless rounds of chemotherapy, and other issues, he was remarkably close to the end and looking for solutions. The doctors could not give him any answers because there were none.
I remember my parents saying the doctors did not know what they were talking about, that they needed to find someone better, and so forth. They saw multiple doctors and asked many questions of anyone who would listen until they got an answer they liked–“Yes! This cancer all over your body is curable!”
One afternoon we drove outside of town to see a doctor working out of his house who promised he developed a solution that could cure cancer. They were excited, and when they got there, the doctor told him he cared about them, wanted to help them, and had developed this unique solution for people just like them. They gave him several thousand dollars in paper lunch bags and took the solution home. My stepfather drank it consistently for the next few weeks until he was too sick to get out of bed and had to be taken to the hospital.
Over the next few weeks, as he lay in the hospital dying, my mother continued to search for solutions. She donated to a religious group for a wood sliver no larger than a shard of a toothpick–apparently from the cross that Christ died on. For a few thousand dollars, the group put this small artifact on him and said it could result in a miracle. Despite all of this, my stepfather died a few weeks later. Even at the age of ten years old, I knew that this did not make any sense.
These events are examples of someone getting taken advantage of by others who understand this rule I am about to share with you.
I have been in lots of desperate situations myself and needed help–just like you have. Not too long ago, I hired an accountant to help me as an expert witness in a case. I hired him because I had known him for several years, and he seemed interested in what he did for a living and in me personally.
The accountant told me that for $45,000, he would represent me for the duration of the case and do everything necessary. He acted like my friend, met with me a few times, and made me feel like he would do a good job. I trusted him. I gave the accountant $45,000 and then called him and told him I had a hearing coming up and needed him to attend. He had already been paid and had done no work yet.
When I asked him to attend, he said he would do it by phone and be available for an hour when I needed him. I told him it was an all-day hearing and he needed to be present for it. To my astonishment, he then screamed, “fuck you!” slammed down the phone and then sent me a letter that said his contract with me said he could “withdraw at any time” and that he would not refund my money.
A few months later, I met with him and told him I would sue him if he did not refund my money. I told him I had hired him because he seemed like he cared about me and the work he did. In response, he said something that I could not believe: “It's all an act. All I care about is money." He then tried to negotiate how much money he would pay me back.
He told me that my time suing him, hiring lawyers, and so forth had a price, and I should accept a lowball settlement offer. He had done this sort of thing with lots of people. Because of threats to his life, he hired a security guard to park outside of his house each night. He had cameras all over his property to protect himself.
Not too long ago, I hired an in-house attorney to help me with various things the company was doing. Like all businesses, we have various ongoing legal issues we need to solve from time to time. The job of all in-house attorneys is to understand the company's legal position and defend it.
For whatever reason, out of more than twenty issues during his short time with us, he figured out every argument against whatever we were trying to do. Instead of making arguments on behalf of the company, this attorney constructed complex arguments against whatever we were trying to do. It was as if we had hired opposing counsel to work inside of our company and not the other way around.
The attorney was let go less than two weeks after he started. He did not understand the rule. He was angry.
You may wonder what all of this has to do with the rule.
Most attorneys do not understand what clients and other attorneys inside the firm—including mentees, mentors, and others—seek from them and desperately want. Understanding this is the most basic requirement that any attorney should have. This characteristic is not taught in law schools, though.
Although it may not be taught directly, we glorify this characteristic in movies and books about the best attorneys. This characteristic is imperative, yet a lack of it is the number one thing that holds attorneys and others in the legal market back. Not having this characteristic destroys attorneys' careers, destroys law firms, and prevents countless careers from ever starting. Its presence makes incredible things happen to law firms, attorneys, and those they touch.
Years ago, I hired a law firm out of state to represent me in a very dumb case against a former employee who became a competitor and started posting all sorts of stuff on the Internet under a false name. The law firm consisted of attorneys with illustrious pedigrees from top law schools and honors at these schools. Despite this, the firm was tiny, did not represent large clients, and did not seem to be that successful. I could not figure it out.
When I spoke with the attorneys by phone, they seemed unusually dry and experts at parroting back the law but not much more. They were arguing an important appeal before the court of appeals, and I flew down with another attorney who worked for me to watch them. When I got there, the attorneys seemed slow-moving and depressed. There was not a lot of energy. When they got up to argue their appeal, my attorney argued for about six out of the twenty minutes allotted and then sat down. The back of his collar was half-way up while he talked, and he seemed unorganized. On the other side, their attorney argued for a full twenty minutes and was persuasive, so he did well.
We went out to lunch after the oral argument. The firm attorneys seemed most interested in complaining about their other clients and why they were all wrong. Over the next few years, I watched the firm I had hired shrink and move into smaller offices. They were failing because they seemed to lack this one thing.
This simple characteristic is missed, glossed over, and put down—which prevents attorneys from succeeding. Having this is more important than where you went to school and where you are working. Lack of this characteristic in the legal community is so prevalent it often makes me sick—I do not know what to do. Attorneys somehow miss the forest for the trees.
I interview and hire attorneys all the time. In general, when someone like myself is looking to hire an attorney, they are doing so because they need help with something.
This week I interviewed an attorney for a position with one of my companies. When I asked her what she knew about the company she was interviewing with, she had "heard of it." When I asked her about her long-term objectives, she said things that had nothing to do with the job. She then asked questions about her salary and similar matters. I did not offer her a job. I could not understand how she could represent me knowing nothing about the job and what I do. We see this all the time.
- Why an Attorney Should Find Out about the Law Firm’s Values
- Top 10 Interview Questions During Your Law Firm Interview
Last week, I spoke with one of our recruiters about a candidate who cannot get a job. The candidate is with a major law firm and trying to move back to the city she is from. In her interviews, when asked if she has any questions, she asks whether the firm will pay relocation expenses, give her a bar stipend, and prorate her bonus if she leaves before receiving a bonus. She has done this in several interviews and is not getting callbacks and offers. This attorney does not understand the rule.
Later in the week, I spoke with an attorney looking for a law firm position. She was a senior attorney with no business in a niche practice area. She talked about how she knew there was a lot of demand for people like her. Despite that, she would be happy to leave her law firm because she had been "reading some bad news about the law firm online" and thought she could move.
She said she wanted a part-time position, if possible, where she could work reduced hours. She did not care too much about what she was doing—her clients, or otherwise. This attorney has never made partner in her law firm and will never make partner wherever she goes.
All week I look at the resumes of attorneys who are not getting jobs. They litter many of their resumes with stuff that they believe is important. These resumes often contain polarizing statements about political affiliation, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and other beliefs about what is important to them. Today, many attorneys working in major law firms and trying to get a job in a new law firm will spend as much time on their resume talking about all the pro bono work they did as they do about the actual work they have done for their law firms. These attorneys do not understand the rule.
Inside law firms, weird stuff is going on. Some partners want to grow the firm, bring on more partners with more business, expand into new markets, and more. Some partners do not want this to happen because they feel this may threaten them, make them look bad, and undermine their authority and position they have without this growth. These partners may try to undermine those trying to grow the firm at the expense of the firm. There are always people trying to expand the firm and those trying to hold it back. It works this way in every law firm. Some people understand the rule and those who do not.
One of the most stressful things for partners inside law firms is getting credit for their work—whether it is just them bringing in the work or sharing credit with other partners bringing in the work.
While the public, associates, and others may believe a law firm partnership is an exercise in cooperation, it is rarely that. Instead, it is a catfight where people are always trying to one-up one another to get credit for client origination, compensation, and other stuff. Most law firm partners feel very much alone, and like they do not have anyone supporting them. It is often much lonelier and feels more powerless being a law firm partner than an associate. However, many of the most successful partners are the way they are because they take a counterintuitive attitude towards business and sharing. I will talk more about this shortly.
One of the most exciting things about the company I run, BCG Attorney Search, is that our number one core value is getting attorneys jobs. Throughout the 20+ years I have run this company, I have seen legions of people come in and succeed, and others fail. I believe the work that we do here is vital. If someone is good at their job, they can change their lives and careers.
A good recruiter understands how to bring the best out in candidates and show this to law firms. A good recruiter understands you often need to knock on many doors and be persistent to get people jobs. A good recruiter understands everyone is an individual and needs to be represented and pushed to improve. A good recruiter makes a difference in people's lives because they care about their work, work hard, do not give up, and keep trying.
- How to Select the Best Legal Recruiter and Maximize the Effectiveness of Working with One
- How to Choose a Good Attorney Recruiter
Last week, one of our recruiters made three placements. It is interesting not that she made three placements in one week, but how she made these placements. Three different candidates had all been rejected by the firms when our recruiter initially approached the firms. However, instead of taking no for an answer, she followed up with the firms a couple of months later. Each of them said they were interested in interviewing the candidate now.
The candidates went in, were interviewed, and got jobs. How remarkable! This recruiter is a Harvard Law School-educated attorney who used to practice civil rights law and believes passionately in her candidates. She interviews them and spends a lot of time understanding them. She brings out the best in them, presents this to law firms, and researches many opportunities. She persists in placing them. I think this is remarkable and how it should be for everyone. Few people are like this with the jobs they do—but she is. I am. These are the people I want representing our candidates at this company—and they are hard to find.
When I was in my early 20s, my friends and I traveled from the suburbs of Detroit to downtown Detroit to go to bars on the Detroit River. There were always some big paddleboats on the water where we would get drinks, and everyone would meet up. I would see many kids I knew from high school, and it was a lot of fun.
There was a crack epidemic in Detroit, and crack addicts would often approach you the second you got out of the car and ask for money. However, it was a class of crack addicts that was very smart. They were often clean-cut, well dressed, and would entice you with statements about how they needed to get food for their kids, their wife was at home pregnant, or other such information. They would tell you they were hungry and would approach you in a smart enough way that you would often talk to them for some time. While I did not know it at the time, in their drugged-up state, they were persuasive talkers and extremely convincing that if you would just give them $20 or so, everything would be fine.
One evening a friend of mine and I invited one of these crack addicts into my car, and he told us his tale for at least thirty minutes. I told him I would take him to a store and buy him some food for his family. He told me he just wanted money and not food. Despite this, we drove to a store, and I purchased him forty dollars of groceries. When I gave it to him, he started screaming and my friend and me. We got in the car and drove off, and as we did, he threw a sandwich I had bought him at the back of the vehicle.
What was going on with these crack addicts is that they were telling me whatever they thought I wanted to hear to get money. They did not wish for food – they wanted money for drugs. They dressed well because this worked and made me trust them. The spun many stories about why they needed my help. However, beneath all of this, there was no substance. They were not trying to help their family or get food. All they wanted was drugs.
It is like this in many businesses. I manage the recruiters who work for our company closely. Very few survive here because most people are just out for themselves. They are not genuinely interested in helping people get jobs, bringing out the best in others, doing the hard research, following up, and doing everything it takes to succeed. They care only about themselves and cut corners.
About six months after starting BCG Attorney Search, I was out for dinner with my father, wife, and friend. We were sitting at a Greek restaurant in Malibu. I told my father how proud I was of various attorneys I had helped get jobs, what I had done, and how good I felt about it. My wife had initially been skeptical of this new career. Still, she could tell how enthusiastic I was and seemed excited for me.
“C’mon. That is just complete bullshit,” my dad said. “All anyone cares about is making money. I don’t buy that you are excited for those people one bit,” he said.
I was so upset at the time that I could barely speak. For the first time in my life, I felt a complete disconnect from my father and myself. I understood that he might have had a lack of success because of this belief about people and the world. Unable to get behind anything, he believed the world was more about making money than it was about believing in anyone or anything. I never saw him as the same person again.
Now, let us talk about you for a moment.
If you are sick, you see a doctor and expect that doctor to listen to what is wrong and develop solutions to help you. You would not want that doctor saying you do not need medical care.
You would want help.
I had a bizarre experience a few years ago. I went to the local UCLA Medical Clinic in Malibu, California. They had just hired a recent medical school graduate from a very conservative midwestern state. I was one of her first patients. I presented to her with the symptom of being very tired and having an enlarged lymph node on my neck. She started asking me many questions about how many sexual partners I had and where I caught this. When I explained to her I had been married for almost a decade and had three children; she did not want to believe me. She then asked me if I was an IV drug user, and I told her I was not and did not even drink. She then told me she was testing me for sexually transmitted diseases.
A few days later, the symptoms got worse after being sent away, and I ended up hospitalized. The only thing wrong with me was a virus that quickly cleared up. It was clear as day on my chart, but for whatever reason, this doctor's mind went the opposite direction. Instead of being interested in helping me, she was averse to me and interested in reaching conclusions that made no sense to me or other doctors. She was out to confirm thoughts that had nothing to do with helping me.
Couples often go to therapy before separating. It rarely works—but I am sure it can. It never works when the person requesting the therapy wants the therapist to "fix" the other party. They want the therapist to take their side and understand what is wrong with the other person and then fix the other person. If you hire a couples' therapist, they are rarely going to take one person's side. That is not their job. If you want to fix a relationship, you cannot have someone change someone else. It would help if you had someone on your side, though. That would be your therapist—someone whose allegiance to you will help you feel heard.
If someone breaks into your house, injures you, and steals your possessions, you are going to call the police. If the police show up and do not believe you, that would hurt your feelings. Yet, this happens all the time.
Last year a kid from Pepperdine University (a school right across the street from where I live) drag raced his car down my street at 2:00 am. He ended up losing control of his vehicle and crashing into at least six vehicles parked on the road, totaling two of them. He was completely sober, uninjured, and had just been acting stupid. When the police came, they took a report, and he told them each of the cars he had crashed into – including my own. I was sleeping when all of this happened.
When I got up, I noticed that my car and several others were crashed into and called the police. Instead of the real police, they sent volunteer local police. One of the volunteer police officers told me that the guy could not possibly have hit my car because the dent on it was higher than the bumper of the vehicle that had hit me. When I pointed out that the car that hit me had gone airborne and was now on a hill, the police officer did not want to listen to logic.
A few minutes into this, several other police officers showed up—real police—and observed the argument. Then, the guy who hit all the cars the previous morning showed up. A massive crowd of neighbors filled the street, and the kid explained to the real police what had happened and that he had hit my car. The other police officer that had witnessed my argument started making fun of the volunteer police officer and calling him "Detective Sherlock" and so forth.
I figured that was the end of that.
A few weeks later, after getting my car fixed, I stepped outside and found the same volunteer policeman I had been in an argument with earlier sitting there with a tow truck getting ready to tow my truck. He stated that I had three unpaid tickets for an expired license plate tag. I told him that I did not have an expired license plate, and someone had stolen my tags, and if he were a real police officer, he could look this up. He called for "back up" after telling him I was not letting him tow my car.
A few minutes later, at least ten police cars with their lights flashing and sirens wailing pulled in front of my house. He explained he was trying to have my vehicle towed, and I explained my situation. The on-duty sergeant showed up, and he ran the tags of my truck and explained that they could not tow my vehicle because the tickets should not have been written. Once again, all the police there made fun of the volunteer police officer.
I keep getting tickets from the volunteer police officer several times per month. He tickets me wherever he can around town—if I am parked on a line, too close to a curb, who knows. The guy has a vendetta. He is not on my side, and I do not enjoy it.
A few weeks ago, I was driving home from lunch, and he pulled me over with his yellow flashers (his car says, "Parking Enforcement" and does not have red and blue lights). He said I had not come to a complete stop at a stop sign on the road. There was not a single car. He started yelling at me and told me that it was a "blatant" violation of the law and other concerns. I told him he should write me a traffic ticket if he were that upset, and then he stormed off because he could not write traffic tickets.
This volunteer police officer does not like me because he does not think I am on his side or respect him. I dislike him because I do not believe he is on my side, either. Isn't this the gist of why most people disagree?
I have been fired from a few jobs in my life. In every single case, when I was "fired," it was because my employer perceived me as antagonistic to their interests.
The first job they fired me from was when I was fifteen. I had this ridiculous job where I was put in a room with some other kids and given a phone list of everyone who lived in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. I also had a script about a police and fireman's carnival day held once per year at some park, which I sold tickets to. I said things like, "We'll have cotton candy for the kids, clowns, popcorn, beer on tap, a dunk tank, and a 1920's theme band! And do you know what else…?
“No, what else will you have?”
“We’re going to have a petting zoo where the kids will have the chance to pet goats, see live pigs and chickens too!”
I did this job for about six weeks every evening. One day a few friends of mine were over and asked me about my job. I picked up the phone and made a random call showing them what I did using my name. My friends thought this was hilarious, and we soon were making more phone calls and went wildly off-script. Instead of a petting zoo, they replaced this with "a live execution of a death row inmate" and some other equally fun stuff. Not smart. Someone was shocked enough that they called the police association, and because my friends had made calls using my name, they promptly fired me. I was not acting in the interest of my employer and on their side.
I was fired from a job as a valet a year later when I was sixteen. One day another valet and I talked on a slow night, and I told her that my boss (the owner of the valet company) had stolen all my tips after making me work on the Fourth of July. I did not think this was right. She told our boss; he figured out I was against him, and he fired me.
When I was eighteen, I spent a summer as a sanitation worker. Most of the men I worked with were not too happy with their jobs or lives. I talked with them about how I planned on going to a great college and how successful I intended to be. This did not make these men feel good about themselves. My boss fired me, and when I asked why he said to me that I did not make the men I worked with feel good about themselves, he needed to protect them.
When I got home, I told my mother about this, and she called them and told him that he had no reason to fire me and that he had to give me my job back. Since she worked for the State of Michigan as a civil rights investigator, she was very persuasive, and I instantly got my job back. I should have been fired. I came across as not being on the side of the people I worked with.
When I graduated from law school, I spent a year clerking for a federal district judge in the upper part of Michigan. While I have never been political, the judge I was clerking for was quite conservative politically, like my co-clerk. On the other extreme, there were all sorts of people in the courthouse, such as the magistrate judge's clerk, the bankruptcy judge's clerk, and court staff that were quite liberal and disapproved of everything the judge did.
- Taking Up A Job As Clerkship. Tips By BCG Attorney Search
- How to Get an Attorney Position During and After Your Judicial Clerkship
Since I spent a lot of time with the liberal people, all I heard both inside and outside of the office was how flawed my judge's politics, decisions, and so forth were. It influenced me and made me judge him under their terms and not the words I should have.
My judge is the one who hired me. He is the one I worked for and who was responsible for paying me. He was the one who reviewed my work and went over it with me. He is the one who would be able to give me later recommendations. He was the most influential person in the courthouse. However, because I was spending my time with the wrong people, I did not have his back—and this is something he was entitled to and deserved.
My co-clerk was a conservative who played the game she needed to play. She did not associate with the people who did not support the judge. She even moved to a neighborhood close to him. As a result, he helped her and advanced her.
Instead of supporting my judge, I did the opposite and became a liability because I associated with and adopted the views of people who did not support him. I made the wrong move, and if I had not quit when I realized I was about to get fired, I certainly would have lost my job. I was not on the judge's side, and I allowed the wrong people to influence me.
When my judge hired me, there was stuff on my resume that suggested to him I was a conservative like he was. I honestly did not know what I was. He had hired me because he felt I would be someone like him and on his side.
It feels awful when people are not on our side. We need people to understand us and stick up for us. What are politicians, social movements, protests, and more other than a demand that someone be on our side? People join unions because they want someone on their side, and they support political parties because they want someone on their side. We join religions because we wish to be around people on our side who understand us. We join support groups with people like us because we want others on our side. We move to specific areas of the country because we want to be closer to people like us. We live in the small towns we grew up in because we want to be around our families and people on our side. Some people protest the police because they feel the law is not on their side. There is a fundamental human need among people to have others on their side.
The doctor that my mother and stepfather hired with the miracle cancer cure was just out for himself. My parents wanted someone on their side.
When my mother paid someone for what was supposedly a piece of the cross Jesus died on, she was trying to enlist supernatural forces on her side.
When I hired an accountant to help me in a legal case, he said all sorts of things that made me feel and believe he was on my side—but he was not. He was on his side.
When I hired an attorney to represent the company's interest, instead of being on the company's side, he was entirely against the company. He seemed on some sort of vendetta for reasons I did not understand. Only later did I find out that he may have been angry because he unsuccessfully sought the company's help for a job search previously and was rebuffed.
The law firm I hired to represent me in the case against the former employee-turned-competitor was not on my side. Instead of making arguments for me, they could not take anyone's side or have much passion for anything.
The average recruiter is often like the crack addict. They will say and do whatever they need to make easy money, but that is it. They can tell you the right things, but they are never really on your side—they are on their side. They do not care about you or have your back and will not do what it takes to help you.
Most attorneys seeking jobs make the mistake of not realizing what matters to the employer. The people you work with must feel like you have their back and are on their side. If you look like you have their back, you will be hired—and if you do not, you will not be.
A conservative judge hired me because he thought I was conservative and would have his back. An attorney who goes into interviews and talks only about what they want (relocation expenses, bonuses, salaries, and so forth) is not likely to get the job because they look too out for themselves—not like someone who will have the employer’s back.
- Showing Up: The Difference between Those Who Get Hired and Advance in Law Firms and Those Who Do Not
- How Law Firms Can Hire the Best Attorney: A Guide to Hiring Stars
Many attorneys inside law firms never get business and never find long-term success practicing law because they never understand the importance of looking out for others. Clients see them as not having their back and being out only for themselves. They are unable to get behind the causes of their clients, and this hurts them.
They do not believe in their law firms and instead listen to negative rumors and news stories. They fight for every dollar and do not share with their partners. Often, they seem opposed to their clients, partners, and others they should advocate for. You simply cannot succeed if you do not seem like you are on the side of your employer, partners, and others you are working for.
Young attorneys come out of school thinking they do not want to spend much time working in a law firm, that law firms are bad, that they should do pro bono work and not represent private clients, that they should play the “devil’s advocate” for every issue, and more. None of this does any good. You need to take sides—believe in someone and what you are doing.
Attorneys are hired because they come across to the people interviewing them as if they would have their back. Firms hire them because they believe they will get along well with others and support their objectives. This is how it works.
I speak with attorneys all the time and start asking them questions such as where they grew up, brothers and sisters, and last vacations, getting them to open personally. Some people assume none of this matters and act cold when I try to elicit this information. Nothing could be more critical. The more you show people you are like them, can be trusted, support them, and are willing to be vulnerable, the more they will like you and trust you. Everyone wants to have people around who they feel understand them and will look out for them. Very few people have this.
- You Will Succeed in Your Job and Job Search When You Are Concerned with Giving and Not Taking
- Love Your Work and the People Who Give It to You
When I represent law firms and attorneys, it is never my desire to give people bad news. When I represent an attorney and tell them things in their background that law firms are unlikely to appreciate, those attorneys will quickly tune out, believing I am not on their side. While I can tell them how I will overcome their limitations, it is not my role to just point out those limitations.
If I say to a law firm that they will have difficulty recruiting a specific attorney because of something wrong with the firm, the firm will tune out. They want someone who believes in them and proposes solutions, not someone who tells them about obstacles.
Something that law firms and employers hate to see is an attorney who has been unemployed for a long time. I thought this was unfair for the longest time and did not understand it. In certain markets like New York City, it is next to impossible to get hired by the most prestigious law firms if you are unemployed—it says too much negative about you.
I had many theories about why being unemployed was considered such a bad thing. Now I understand this: It shows you cannot advance your case. How can you be an excellent attorney and represent others' interest if you cannot represent yourself and get a job?
You need to convince recruiters, employers, and others of your value, and if you cannot do this for yourself, employers can scarcely expect you to do this for paying clients. If people kicked you out of a law firm, it might have been because they did not see you as their advocate. Law firms and all employers generally expel people who they do not see as their advocates.
If you are an attorney without business? To get business, you need to be the best advocate for your potential clients. You also need to be seen as the best one. All clients care about: Who will get the most excited about my issue and help me the most? Who will believe in me and be my advocate? That is who they want to hire.
If you have not figured it out by now, the one thing that the best attorneys need is to be an advocate. They need to believe in their clients and the people they are working for. If you cannot be an advocate, you will not succeed as an attorney. You need to advocate for your clients, employer, peers, bosses, and subordinates.
The best attorneys get ahead in the legal profession because they are advocates. Attorneys fail in the legal profession when they are not advocating for others.
It is as simple as that.
Law Firms Hire Attorneys Because They Look Like They Will Be Good Advocates
Not everyone can do this. It is the most basic requirement of being an attorney, yet very few people do this. Instead of worrying about advocating, they do things like worry about money, how others perceive them, whether they are working on something politically correct, their firm's politics, the clients they are working for, and more.
If a law firm hires you, they want to believe you will represent their interests. They want to think you will care about them and their attorneys. They look for things in your background that suggest a tribal connection to the attorneys working there (schools, shared interests, religion, race, appearance) that show they can trust you. They look for you to identify with them and act as if you will be their friend. They want to feel that you will not be averse to them and will share their perspective.
Anything you do that shows you are not this person will cause you not to get hired (if the firm knows what it is doing). The firm wants people that believe in the work, the firm, and the people there.
Clients Hire Attorneys Because They Look Like They Will Be Good Advocates
I remember being in mediation once. I asked the mediator (a former judge) about one of the best attorneys in Los Angeles in his practice area. When the attorney takes a case, the judge told me he gets himself into a "white-hot frenzy" about the reasons his client is right. The other side is wrong—regardless of what the issue is. The judge said that he is the best attorney he knows and the only attorney who does this. Because of this insane frenzy for his clients' point of view, he has more work than he can handle and almost always wins every case. This attorney is rare. He believes in his clients and truly is their advocate.
Many attorneys expect business to come to them and believe that having a good pedigree is all it takes. You cannot fake believing in your clients. You cannot fake being a staunch advocate. I have hired too many attorneys in the past who were not good advocates. The name of the game is being an advocate and fully supporting those who give you business.
More Senior Attorneys Advance Attorneys Who Are True Advocates for Those Senior Attorneys
They do not talk behind their backs and are on their side. They anticipate the work the senior attorney needs. They allow the senior attorney to take credit for their work. They make the senior attorney look useful to clients. They make the senior attorney look helpful to associates, partners, and others. They have the senior attorney's back and are their advocate.
If you are a dedicated advocate for the right attorney, you will never lose your job nor must worry about employment security.
Instead of understanding this rule, many attorneys believe they can succeed without getting on others' side, which does them no good. You need to support others and be another's advocate. The second you break this rule, you will almost always have problems in any job. Pity the fool who bites the hand that feeds them.
Attorneys Are Kept Around and Advanced by Their Firms Because They Are Advocates for the Firm
I worked with a prominent New York law firm years ago and learned they had installed screen reporting software on their attorneys' screens. While it was not something they routinely monitored, they did it as a security precaution to ensure clients' sensitive information was not shared externally. One day a news story broke about some private rumors of things going on in the firm—it was about sex, racism, or something like that. The law firm searched the screen recording software, found out who alerted the news site, and promptly fired the associate who sent the news about the rumor to the site.
If they see you as not supporting your firm and the people there, the law firm will want nothing to do with you. You should be able to spin negative news about your firm into a positive. You should have the back of your organization and be its advocate. If you are not your firm's advocate, you hurt your stability in the firm. Law firms are continually pushing out people who do not support them and will do the same with you if they feel you are unhappy all the time.
Law firms experience financial issues, bad news, departures, and public embarrassment all the time. They need to keep people around who support them and push out those who do not. There will always be issues with firms, and it is something you just need to get used to. If a firm you work at has been around 100+ years and has a nasty piece of news, get used to it because it probably had hundreds of these in the past. The people who endure are those who remain committed to their firms.
The most successful attorneys are most often seen as having their peers' backs and being their advocate. Instead of looking like "lone wolves" out for themselves, they may share origination credit and help others. In two decades in this business, I cannot tell you how many attorneys I have seen succeed by being viewed as real partners who help others—and the number who have failed by doing the opposite.
I once saw the managing partner of a practice group of one of the ten largest law firms in the world lose a job because he publicly undermined a pitch of another attorney in the firm. He did not want the attorney to get the work because of a private feud with the office of that attorney's firm. That was enough to get him fired.
In contrast, I have seen countless attorneys advance with an “insider status” with other firm partners because they were always covering for and had the backs of their peers. It was that simple. If you want to rise and stay there, you need to be an advocate for your peers.
Attorneys Seen As Advocates for Their Subordinates Are Always Supported and Rarely Fall, and When They Do, They Are Helped Back Up
When I first started practicing law, I worked with a very well-known attorney and one day asked him a few questions about taking depositions. He answered my questions truthfully, and then I thought nothing else of it. When I got into the office the next morning, he had left me a series of two or three ten-minute voicemails (the most the system would allow). I was not asking him questions about a specific case, just depositions, so it was not like he could bill the time. I realized how much he cared about his job and helping me. He was a good person and an advocate for the profession.
Throughout the rest of my time at the firm, he continued to help me more and more selflessly. When I left the firm, I stayed in touch with him and still am to this day. I have sent him lots of cases and work and even given him lots of advice about his career and helped introduce him to many people. I support him because he supported me when there was no reason to.
I have had the same experience with a few teachers growing up. My high school English teacher spent probably 4 to 5 hours correcting each English paper I wrote. I never understood it. He went to Yale and had a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in English. Yet he spent so much time on my papers. He did not have to do this, and it made no sense. He did this with everyone. He would type a lengthy review of what I had written and staple it to my paper. He was an advocate for good teaching, making people improve, and the English language. When I applied to colleges, he wrote a seven-page single-spaced letter for me. I could not believe it.
When he died a few years ago, I visited his memorial service and wrote his family a long letter about how much he had taught me. I have never met someone who is a better advocate or more committed.
Suppose you have not figured it out yet. In that case, here it is again. The most critical component of your professional success is advocating and taking the side of your clients, your employer, your peers, and your subordinates. Very few people ever do this, however. They are only on their side. They stand for something else. They end up having many problems and never find the professional success they are looking for.
Everyone needs an advocate.
Children need their parents to be their advocate. If a parent does not believe in their children, they are devastated and have many problems. You will be a better parent when you are an advocate for your children.
Your significant other needs someone who believes in them. You will have better relationships when you are their advocate.
Your friends need advocates. You will lose friends when they see you as not their advocate and gain friends when seen as their advocate.
Your success and happiness will come in direct proportion to your ability to advocate for others. That is the meaning and lesson of the legal profession and perhaps even life itself.
- Find Joy in Your Life’s Work-and Never Be without Work
- Top 9 Ways For Any Attorney To Generate a Huge Book of Business
- Do Not Allow Others to Hold You Back from Success
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.
Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom
You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays
You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts
You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives
Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.