Lawyers are often under the impression that they can only make it big in this business if they work long hours, bill hundreds of hours per month, and network like crazy. But is that really true? The late, great trial lawyer Gerry Spence once said that “the first rule of being a lawyer is not to be one.” It’s sage advice that too many lawyers ignore. Instead of heeding the advice, they go to law school, get good grades, pass the bar exam, and then set up shop and hang their shingle.
But hang on a second. Just because you can be a lawyer doesn’t mean you should be one. In fact, there are many people who would be far better off not being lawyers. So, if you’re thinking about becoming a lawyer, or if you’re already in the legal profession and wondering why things aren’t working out the way you’d hoped, here are ten things you need to know.
In this blog post, we will explore 10 rules for successful legal practice from a senior lawyer who has been in the business for many years. These tips will help you succeed without sacrificing your personal life or sanity!
So without further ado, here are the top ten rules for successful legal practice:
Be courteous to fellow advocates, judicial officers, litigants and witnesses.
Don’t employ abusive or foul language. Sometimes you may be intimidated and offended by fellow advocates and judges. Don’t respond with an equally offensive approach. Rebuff them tactfully by asserting your position respectfully but very firmly.
It is a sign that you are no pushover. You shall have taken the wind out of their sails and placed them to where they belong, without raising temperatures. They will be pacified and will respect you for whom you are. Indulge your colleagues on reasonable grounds if they seek adjournment or reinstatement of dismissed cases or applications. Don’t be unreasonable. Next time it will be you. Don’t be quick to dismiss a colleague’s case if they are absent in court. Ask for another date unless the court insists on dismissal for non-attendance.
Nothing Beats Preparation – Most Cases are Won or Lost at the Preparation Stage.
Be very keen on your drafting. Do thorough proofreading and where possible assign the document to an independent eye. You can go over your own drafting several times without noticing a glaring error.
Be careful with copy-pasting.
You can easily forget to edit unwanted parts of the template you are adapting and end up with an intended document. This is also very relevant to conveyancing. Counter-check the prayers. I once saw an application with exparte orders only. Nothing to grant interpertes. Do thorough research at case preparation stage.
Your first stop should be Legal Precedence – Research on how similar cases have been resolved. See the nature of the orders the court granted. It will help you when crafting your own pleadings.
Know your case well and pre-empt the end from the beginning.
Know where you want to go and strategise on how to get there from the word go. For instance, not all documents availed to you by the Client are for filing. Sieve through the documents and only file those that are helpful to your client’s case and that align with your case strategy.
Know the appropriate forum to seek redress from.
Many cases have been lost for lack of jurisdiction. I once held brief for counsel when his clerk passed a note to me in court. The judge put me to task to explain how the case is a constitutional petition. Turned out counsel was collecting civil debt using a constitutional petition.
The case was struck out with costs on the spot. There is also that not so small matter of exhausting available dispute resolution channels.
Know how to address your colleagues and the court.
Don’t say X when referring to fellow counsel. Say Mr. X or Ms/Mrs. Y. Don’t say “My Lordship”. The Lordship is not yours, it is his. Say “my Lord/my Lady” or “your Lordship/your Ladyship”. It may sometimes help to ask colleagues who have appeared before a certain judge to confirm his/her preferred salutations. Some cases are won or lost on perception; don’t disadvantage your client by giving the bench a wrong impression.
Always read the mood of the judge.
Some judges will tell you something without telling you. If the judge says, “counsel is it an opportune moment to adjourn?” don’t insist on proceeding. The judge is telling you indirectly that he/she is tired. If you insist on proceeding, the judge may not stop you but they will not concentrate or record the proceedings properly. You will lose the case.
Read the subtle language of the judge. Some judges will tell you how hopeless your case or application is in a covert language. Read between the lines and consider withdrawing. Some will covertly advise you on the direction to take. If you are not keen you will not follow.
Don’t hold onto a case like an Arsenal fan.
Know when to retreat tactfully by negotiating and settling out of court. Know when to withdraw an application or even the whole case. It may save your client in the long run.
Not all cases are for prosecution or defending to a conclusive end.
In this era of online court sessions, be very careful and observe etiquette.
Remember an online court session is still a court. Dress well. Switch off your camera and audio unless it is your turn. Always switch them off when logging in.
There is a trap that befalls most advocates. When the judge/magistrate is commencing a court session, they normally greet advocates. You may switch on your cemera/audio to respond to the judge’s greetings but forget to switch them off. Then everything goes bad.
Keep off the client’s account like a plague.
Don’t “borrow” from the Client’s account and comfort yourself that the completion period is 90 days away. You are only a signatory to the client’s account but the money is not yours. You are like a bank teller who counts and hands it over to a customer yet he slept hungry in his house.
Avoid the temptation of dipping your finger in the client’s account at all costs. Many are examples of Lawyers who have taken pleas for criminal charges or even have been disbarred for Client Account mismanagement.
You are a Lawyer, not a Priest.
Lawyers are paid for their legal advice and every word from the mouth of a lawyer touching on any legal issue is billable. Many are temptations from friends and relatives hiding in social conversations, small talks and phone calls seeking to avoid paying for legal advice. Learn to respectively decline to wish your earnings away by being too generous with your craft – your relative who runs a restaurant may not be as willing to offer you free meals just because you are related and so is your practice.
Dont get it twisted and resort to being antisocial and cruel; my point is, learn to spot exploitation and bill where appropriate.
Bill Properly – Avoid Undercutting.
In my former years, I had this misguided belief that clients could not afford whatever the Advocate Remuneration Order dictated. I could marvel at how senior advocates who had not many clients could afford big offices and could seemingly be affording a blissful life.
You don’t have to bill hundreds of hours per month to be successful. In fact, billing fewer hours can actually be more efficient and profitable in the long run. Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to your billing, and don’t be afraid to raise your rates if you feel you’re undervalued.
With time, I learnt the art of billing – the art of appealing to value as opposed to price. I learnt this from observing how top brands like Apple, Addidas and Balenciaga manage to sell what could pass off as common utilities at a premium – yet people buy. I learnt to deliver value and solutions, and then bill properly.
Suffice to say; cheap clients will always refer other cheap clients; just like paying clients will always connect you to the next well-paying client!
Develop a niche.
Find an area of law that you’re passionate about and build your career around it. Not only will this make you happier and more fulfilled in your work, but it will also make you an expert in your field. And when you’re an expert, clients are more likely to seek you out and recommend you to others.
Work Smarter, Not Harder.
There’s no need to burn the midnight oil every night or bill hundreds of hours per month to be successful. Instead, focus on working smarter by honing your skills, streamlining your processes, and automating where possible. This will free up more time for you to enjoy your life outside of work.
Build a Strong Support Network.
No lawyer is an island. You will need the support of others to succeed, whether it’s a mentor, colleague, or friend. Lean on your network for advice, guidance, and referrals when needed.
Market Yourself Effectively.
If you want clients to find you, you need to make sure you’re visible. Invest time and money in marketing yourself and your firm through online and offline channels.
Always Be Learning.
The law is constantly changing, so it’s important that you stay up-to-date on the latest developments. Read industry publications, attend CLE courses, and network with other lawyers to make sure you’re always learning.
Manage Your Time Wisely.
Time management is crucial for any lawyer, but it’s especially important if you want to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Make sure you’re deliberate about how you spend your time both inside and outside of the office.
Delegate and Build a Team.
One of the quickest ways to burn out is to try to do everything yourself. Instead, delegate tasks to others and build a strong team that you can rely on. This will free up your time and energy so you can focus on the most important aspects of your practice.
Enjoy the proceeds of Your Hard Work.
You can’t be at your best if you’re not taking care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Taking care of yourself will help you be more productive, efficient, and happier in your work.
Your career should be rewarding, but it shouldn’t consume your entire life. Make time for the things you enjoy outside of work, and don’t be afraid to take a break when you need it. You’ll be happier and more productive in the long run if you take care of yourself both inside and outside of the office.
Live in that dream neighbourhood. Buy that dream house. Drive that big machine. Being a lawyer is a prestigious career because lawyers who work hard can afford prestigious things in this life.
A senior advocate once told me he did not derive any pleasure in the Bentley he was driving because of his advanced age. The car is as big as a house, he said. “But I am driving it for the sake of my status,” he added. He advised me that if I can afford it, I should buy a big machine at an age that I can enjoy driving it.
In legal practice and in the life of a lawyer, the concept of life after death is not as real as the Vicar tells you – lIVE AND ENJOY THE FRUIT OF YOUR LABOUR!
9 Reasons Why Lawyers Fail: What not to Do.
The vast majority of lawyers are in private practice, and the vast majority of those who are in private practice will never make partner in their firms. In fact, most will eventually leave the profession altogether. So, what went wrong? Why did they fail?
In my experience, there are ten primary reasons why lawyers fail:
They don’t market themselves effectively;
- They don’t develop and nurture client relationships;
- They don’t create a niche or specialty;
- They allow their caseload to get too low;
- They take on too many cases outside of their area of expertise;
- They neglect important business development activities;
- They procrastinate on key projects and deadlines;
- They allow personal problems to interfere with their work;
- They develop an “entitlement” attitude;
- They fail to continuously learn and grow.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these in turn.
Marketing is critical for any business, but it’s especially important for lawyers. Why? Because the legal profession is incredibly competitive. There are more than one million lawyers in the United States alone, and all of them are vying for the same clients. If you want to succeed as a lawyer, you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
But marketing is not just about advertising. It’s also about building relationships. The best way to build relationships with potential clients is to get involved in your community. Volunteer your time, donate to local charities, and participate in civic organizations. By doing so, you’ll not only make a name for yourself, but you’ll also build a network of potential clients.
Niche marketing is another important aspect of effective marketing for lawyers. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, focus your efforts on a specific area of the law. Develop an expertise and become known as the go-to lawyer for that particular type of case. Not only will this make you more marketable, but it will also help you win more cases.
Business development is another essential element of success for lawyers. But what exactly is business development? Simply put, it’s the process of generating new business. This can be done through networking, referrals, speaking engagements, and writing articles or books.
No matter how good you are at marketing and business development, though, it won’t matter if you don’t have the skills to back it up. That’s why continuous learning is so important for lawyers. Whether it’s taking CLE courses, reading legal publications, or attending conferences, you need to find ways to keep your skills sharp.
So there you have it: ten rules for successful legal practice from a senior lawyer. If you’re thinking about becoming a lawyer, or if you’re already in the profession and struggling to find success, make sure you keep these things in mind. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve your goals.
But remember: the first rule of being a lawyer is not to be one. So if you’re not cut out for the legal profession, don’t force yourself to stay in it. There are plenty of other career options out there that may be a better fit for you. Gerry Spence was right: the best way to succeed as a lawyer is not to be one. Thanks for reading!