10.9 – Thriving in an Evolving Legal Market


Thriving in an Evolving Legal Market

I want to talk a little bit about how to find professional success in the law. My advice can only be quite general because I have no idea what area of law you want to go into and that you will go into. One piece of high-level advice I want to give you is to recognize that the legal profession you're entering is one that's likely to change in various ways over the course of your legal career. The legal profession has changed in many ways over the years, and that's only likely to continue and perhaps accelerate.

Legal profession is dynamic

Technology is likely to change the legal profession in ways that we do and don't anticipate over the years, and probably will end up eliminating some positions, creating new positions. It's just hard to really predict. I do think that lawyers are going to continue to be very valuable people, who know the law, who can interact with courts. Computers are not going to make the role of a lawyer obsolete anytime soon. But there may be change, there may be economic change, all sorts of things we can't anticipate.

How to Approach Law in Dynamic Market

Be a specialist and an expert in that specialization.

How do you think about that? How do you approach that as you think about your career? To some degree, you can't totally plan for things, but you can just figure out how to adjust and you can try to be supple. Things can change a lot. I often think back to the example of my grandfather, who sort of started his legal career in a very small firm environment where all the partners names were in the name of the partnership.

He was a generalist. He practiced before the Supreme Court. He did criminal law, he did civil law, he did insurance, he did trials, because that was just sort of the way law worked back then in the 1940s. By the end of his career forty or so years later, he was a specialist. He had specialized in energy law, because law had become a much more specialized profession in the intervening decades. You couldn't be a generalist who did everything in the same way. He managed to continue to have success because he figured out what he was really good at and really focused in on those things.

One thing I think to know is that however the law changes, expertise is the thing that's really valuable. The more expertise you have in a particular area, the more valuable you're going to be, the less fungible you will be. If you can try to identify ways in which you can really be an expert, in which you can really be a leading expert on something, you're going to have more options in your legal career.

You don't have to be the expert on everything. You could be the expert on something pretty small, a very niche area of complicated derivatives transactions or whatever. But if you find something that you're really good at, and that you learn a lot about, and that maybe you know more about than most people, you're going to continue to have value in the legal profession. You're going to have a little bit more options in terms of your career.

Taking control of your career by being flexible

I think that suggests being proactive about your career, really trying to figure out ways in which you can really develop specialties, develop expertise, rather than just going with the path of least resistance. The people I know who didn't end up totally satisfied with some of their options were the ones who went into law practice and didn't really take control of their careers. They just went with the flow. Then they end up at firms, and you end up just sort of doing grunt work, you're doing document review for six years, maybe just on one big complicated case. At the end of it, you haven't really developed any unique expertise, you don't really know a lot about any area of law. You just have expertise in producing documents.

That's not that valuable. Just figure out things that you can really learn a lot about, that you can be good at, and where you can really lend value, and I think that you're going to continue to have a role for yourself. That might have to change. It might be the case that you invest a lot of time in one area of the law, and then the world changes in such a way that that's not as valuable anymore. Well, figure out a way to transition. Be flexible, but always be thinking a little bit ahead.

Don't just react to things. Don't just wait to find a new job until they tell you, "Hey, maybe you're not going to make partner." Think ahead. What's another job that I might want? Do I want to make partner? Would I rather be doing something else? Do I want to go into government? Seek out opportunities that may involve taking some risks. It may involve doing some things in the short term that seem like steps sideways or even steps down in order to develop greater expertise for yourself. If you do those things, I think you're going to have a more successful career rather than if you just see where the current takes you.

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