“This book tells you all you need to know about how to get on.” The Times

“Relatively few books have been written with assistant solicitors in mind, about how to succeed at the business of being a lawyer… fewer still have devised a programme for so doing that runs alongside a book. This book does both.”Law Society (The Law Management Section)

5 star rating HR Magazine

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The Big 3 (brand, business & leadership) Blog

Powerful presence

In the current marketplace, where everyone is aiming for distinction, a powerful presence can be the decisive factor, effectively determining whether one gets the job, promotion, or client. A powerful presence can sometimes feel like an intangible gift that one can neither cultivate nor acquire: a combination of expertise, credibility, and confidence, all set-off by excellent communication skills.

There’s also an anomalous component to building a powerful presence (especially as lawyers) because someone can be a technical expert—and have credibility and confidence—and even be able to communicate in a legal capacity—yet still lack presence. In such cases, it’s likely that interpersonal skills need work. Without an understanding of how to deal effectively with people, one can come across (generally unfairly) as arrogant and untrustworthy, undermining credibility and impairing potential advancement. 

In my book Juggling the Big 3 for Lawyers, I devote several chapters to the subject.  The research base is all in the public domain—but its application can still make an amazing difference in terms of building a satisfying career.

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Doing good—even exceptional—work is not enough

Obviously the first prerequisite for building a successful legal practice is to do good work and work hard for your clients.  But, unfortunately, that’s not enough.  And I still come across many young lawyers who just don’t understand this… Only yesterday, during a training course, several lawyers admitted that some of my information seemed a hard pill to swallow. 

But, as with strong medicine, it’s only for your own benefit.  Therefore, as an associate, beyond doing the requisite level of good work, here’s three basic things you must do (as a minimum!):

1.  Make sure everyone perceives your good work

Doing good work, in the first instance, probably means making the partner you work for look good. But make sure you’re also making yourself look good in the eyes of the client, in terms of positioning yourself for the future.   Just as important, make sure you’re doing good work in the eyes of the lawyer on the opposing side, thus building your reputation in the marketplace.  (Also, you never know where people end up in the future or who might be in a position to give you referrals.)

2.  Build strong relationships

It’s crucial to build relationships with your clients that go beyond the minimum: good work.  To do this, always keep in mind:

  • Your client’s problems must become your problems.  Your client must believe that you genuinely care (which in turn must be the case).


  • Nobody particularly relishes using a lawyer, so your goal is to make your lawyer-client relationship as rewarding as possible.  Your clients should ideally not only trust and respect you, but actively enjoy working with you.


  • Building client relationships, oddly enough, uses the same skill-set as making (and keeping) friendships.


3.  Get out of your comfortable office

Good—even exceptional—work alone will not generate business (which at some point you will need). You can only generate business through having a network of relationships, and you only build up such a network by getting out of the office and fostering new contacts.  If you’re spending all your time on billable work, you may be succeeding in the short-term, but you’re probably also undermining your chances of future success.  Force yourself to get out of the office and meet people!

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Overcoming shyness

The other day I was in the City meeting a friend, who was delayed in traffic.  By the time she got there I was engrossed in conversation with a group next to me.  After exchanging cards with one of my new acquaintances and moving to sit with my friend I noticed that she seemed a little pensive.  Soon she confessed that, had she been the one waiting, she would have been uncomfortable.  Rather than make new contacts, she assured me that she’d have buried herself in the newspaper she always carries around for exactly such occasions.

In essence, my friend admitted that she was extremely shy, which sparked a long conversation on the subject.

If you can relate to my friend, then think about the situations in which you consider yourself “shy”.  According to Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci of the Shyness Research Institute, shyness has three components:

  • Excessive Self-Consciousness – you are overly self-conscious, particularly in social situations;


  • Excessive Negative Self-Evaluation – you have a tendency to view yourself negative; and/or


  • Excessive Negative Self-Preoccupation – you tend to concentrate on all the possible mistakes you might be making when with others.


If you are shy, whether your shyness encompasses one (or all) of these components, the only way to begin overcoming it is to quit focusing on yourself and instead focus on the other person.  When you start thinking about making others feel comfortable (and appreciated and important), then you automatically begin feeling more comfortable yourself. 

If interested, check out my previous post on this topic. Further, several chapters in my Juggling the Big 3 for Lawyers addresses issues of gaining both confidence and charisma.

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Don’t mistake technical abilities for future potential

One of the biggest mistakes I find in law firms and young lawyers is that they mistake current high performance for future potential. Superstar technical performers will have to step up into more complex roles if they want to achieve partnership: they’ll have to become business developers and inspiring leaders.  Aspiring candidates should be tested for their abilities and ambitions in these directions—and long before they might be expected to demonstrate them.

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The facts of legal career progression laid bare

In today’s “The Careerist” blog post, it’s author Vivia Chen lays bare the facts—as substantiated from a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL).

Facts that we all know are true, but which Big Law firms try to dissimulate.

  1. Women only make up 15% of equity partnership.
  2. More than 60% of staff attorneys (those with the least care prospects) are women.
  3. Part-timers are viewed as “less committed” to their careers.
  4. Part time is NOT a route to partnership.

For more details, see the full post.

I suggest reading Vivia's blog on a regular basis to learn the honest realities of a legal career.  As Vivian says herself:  “Let’s not mince words”.  

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It’s all in the attitude

A lawyer friend of mine recently lost her job (very unexpectedly and—in my view—quite unfairly): a job that she had really invested herself in and thoroughly enjoyed.  So I was extremely surprised (though equally impressed) when, rather than view her situation as horribly unfair, she chose to view it positively as an opportunity to recharge her batteries.  Her attitude reminded me of a story I once heard that demonstrates that any situation can be viewed as positive or negative, depending upon how we choose to see it…. And a negative situation can very quickly turn into a positive one.  

Here’s the story:  A farmer had a son and a horse.  One day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to console the farmer over his terrible loss. The farmer said, "What makes you think it is so terrible?”  A month later, the horse came home—this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors were delighted at the farmer's good fortune. “You’re so lucky!” they said.  The farmer replied, "What makes you think this is good fortune?"  Then the next day the farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg so badly that he would have a limp forever.  The neighbors rushed to commiserate: “How unfortunate!”  The farmer replied, "What makes you think it’s so bad?"  Then war broke out, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because of his injured leg, remained behind.

The truth is that we can waste so much time thinking about our good fortune—or, more often, our bad luck.  We readily label situations good or bad, white or black.  But if we change our perspective, we can change the situation too.

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