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Bar Bulletin: Young lawyers, it’s never too early to start building your future

Regardless of whether you are just out of law school or an attorney who has been practicing for five years, you can start taking steps toward building your future as a well-rounded lawyer.

I am sure you have heard there are three hats many successful lawyers wear: technician, manager and entrepreneur.

During our first several years of practice, we need to strive to become good technicians. If we do not develop this skill, then we cannot effectively assist clients and will fall short of the basic requirement of being competent in our trade.

The other two roles are a little more amorphous, but, like becoming a good technician, can be learned by observing a mentor and good hands-on training. Here are a few suggestions on how you can start working on the entrepreneurial role.

Invest in yourself

This is not intended to be a selfish statement because as you invest in yourself, you ultimately help your firm, company or your partners.

Some people see CLEs as dreaded requirements. However, you can use them to add to your skill set as a lawyer. I know it is obvious, but people respect lawyers who are knowledgeable and can assist them with problem solving.

Rather than be reactive by learning only from the work you are given, use CLEs (required and additional) and pro bono opportunities to learn more about how you can help potential clients solve their problems.

Going one step further, you could take time to learn a new practice area.

Take advantage of your ‘free’ time

Easier said than done, right? While we are all busy with family, work and trying to squeeze in some time for fun, there is at least one time of each workday you can use to work on your business development: lunch time.

We all have to eat and we should try to get out of the office in the middle of the day when we can. Try to set a goal of having lunch with at least one new person each week.

It can be another young lawyer, financial adviser, accountant, banker, business owner or just another person you respect.

Additionally, continue to make time for your hobbies. Whether it is golf (that’s mine), art, bike riding or volunteering for charity, go do it.

However, when you do it, make sure to interact with those around you. You never know who you are going to meet.

Some of the people you meet may be your contemporaries in their respective industries. You will grow in your professions together and when they become decision makers, they may call on you for help.

However, do not be intimidated to interact with people who are more senior than you. Common interests, such as hobbies, can be your equalizer or “foot in the door.”

Build relationships for the long term

When you meet those people at lunch, happy hour or during your favorite activity, keep the long term in mind.

As you know, trust is built over time. Build genuine relationships with others and do not think about those people as clients; think about them as friends.

People will learn about your abilities and qualities over time. When the time comes that they need a lawyer, they will call their friend who happens to be a lawyer.

Build your own business development plan

Your plan must be unique. While it is always a good idea to observe others and emulate their good characteristics, you should focus on what works best for you.

Time is precious and you should spend your time doing something you love, especially if it is “free” time.

Therefore, do not try to make other people’s plans your own simply because they seem to be successful.

Be yourself and let your own strengths be the basis of your success.

Find a mentor who is invested in your success

We all need mentors, especially while trying to build our own business. Try to find a mentor or multiple mentors who are willing to invest in your success.

You want a mentor who wants to help you tap your potential as an entrepreneur. This approach will not only add to your success, but also to your mentor’s success.

Hopefully, your mentor will share with you his or her best relationship-building or managing habits, attend a lunch to help bring in a potential client or introduce you to his or her centers of influence to help expand relationships for your practice together.

If you take these steps, are you going to all of a sudden become the Pied Piper of clients? No, but you will have at least improved your own personal stock as a lawyer. Further, you may discover some talents inside of you that you did not even know you had.

While you go through this process you will undoubtedly learn a great deal about others, but you just might learn more about yourself because building your future is a journey.

I am still at the beginning of mine, but I am really looking forward to what is to come and you should look forward to yours.

If you ever want to chat about developing your own business development plan, feel free to email me and I would be happy to help you however I can.

Posted October 19, 2015 in the Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record. Written by Alessandro A. Apolito, JBA Young Lawyers Section board member.

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