Law is one of those rare professions that get a stamp of approval from 99% of parents. This is in no way surprising—lawyers enjoy universal respect, power, and a high annual income. But all these nice things come at a price. Becoming a successful lawyer is one of the hardest goals to achieve. Hopefully, these tips will help.
#1 Study hard
Few careers can compare to the law in terms of how much students have to study before they finally get to practice. Anyone who wants to be a lawyer should be ready to read a ton, practice valuable soft skills, write paper after paper, and maintain outstanding grades. It takes years of hard work with very little time for anything besides books.
While most people just have to get their Bachelor’s degree (and maybe a Master’s, if they feel like it), would-be lawyers are expected to spend much more time in the university. To become a lawyer, one has to:
- Complete an undergraduate program (while preparing for the Law School Admission Test)
- Actually pass the test
- Get admitted to a crazy-competitive law school
- Study for three more years to get a Juris Doctor (JD) degree
- And finally, pass the bar exam, which is no walk in the park.
Sure, it is fine to take a gap year or two between the Bachelor’s program and law school. But the total time spent studying will not get any less. So becoming a lawyer is all about hard work, dedication, and patience.
#2 Never underestimate the power of networking
Learning all the legal staff is obviously key, but it is not enough to be book-smart to succeed in a law career. A lawyer cannot do without a bunch of essential soft skills, and networking is arguably the most difficult one to acquire.
First, it helps to find yourself a mentor who already has a more or less successful legal career. A mentor can teach a beginner everything they need to know about the exams (both the Law School Admission Test and the bar exam). They can also share helpful advice on how to survive years and years of intense studying. Finally, they can help a beginner with their first job in the field.
Lucky few have lawyers in the family. But everyone who does not will have to learn how to network to find a mentor first and important professional connections down the road. Sure, social media makes networking much easier, yet it is not the only option. Networking events for lawyers and future lawyers are available in almost every city. It is never a wasted effort to attend a couple of those.
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#3 Use what technology has to offer
Most people believe that law is a very conservative field. While they are not entirely wrong, no successful lawyer can live without technology. In addition to all the basics (meaning notetaking, calendaring, billing, and so on), take advantage of the best apps for law students and lawyers. Here’s some of the best:
- Black’s Law Dictionary. Legal terminology is a challenging part of getting a law degree, but it is much easier to learn with Black’s Law Dictionary. The app is not free, but it is money well-spent.
- On the case. Another great app for law students, On the case makes finding relevant cases much more straightforward. It is almost a crime how unpopular On the case is.
- Lexicata. Lexicata makes more sense for people who are already practicing lawyers. It is not cheap, but a month is not too much money to pay for everything Lexicata is capable of. The app makes all administrative tasks a lawyer has to deal with (from collecting leads to monitoring one’s digital marketing) seem like a piece of cake.
- dLaw. Sadly, dLaw is only available for Android users, but at least it is free. dLaw users can search for relevant laws and statutes much more efficiently.
#4 Master the art of negotiation
Negotiating is yet another essential soft skill for any lawyer. No matter what your legal career will look like, it is guaranteed to involve tons of negotiation with clients, partners, lawyers who represent other people’s interests, and whatnot. Only a person who has sufficient experience in getting their way using words can avoid the embarrassment of the first failed professional negotiation.
Sure, both regular undergraduate programs and law schools have courses that teach future lawyers at least the theoretical aspect of negotiation. But this knowledge is useless without constant practice. So try to use every opportunity to work on your negotiation skills. For example, it is always a good idea to ask one’s partner or family to do some role-play. Even “negotiating” what restaurant to choose from with one’s friends can be a learning opportunity.
#5 Prioritize your mental health
Few lawyers, especially law students, can afford the luxury of a work-life balance. Most people who choose to follow the legal path spend the first several years of their career pulling all-nighters, emailing clients in the middle of a movie date, and reading complicated cases on the subway. Work and life merge, and it gets impossible to find where the line between the two is.
Still, anyone who wants to be a successful lawyer and stay sane in the meantime should never neglect their mental health. There are a lot of ways to care about one’s psychological well being, from therapy and meditation to long walks in the park. What matters is to have something to unwind and check with oneself from time to time. Otherwise, professional burnout is inevitable.
As hard as being a successful lawyer is, it is not impossible. Quite a lot of people have already achieved this, so there is no reason to assume that you cannot be next. All it takes is to study non-stop, invest in one’s network and negotiation skills, and befriend all the helpful apps for lawyers out there. And, most importantly, never forget that law (as well as any other demanding career) takes a toll on one’s mental health, so it is essential to take good care of yourself.