I have been writing about habits for a while. Naturally, I have got many questions about what are the most important habits for lawyers to cultivate. I think this is a very important question. I have been studying successful lawyers for a while, through my interviews on Superlawyer, or when I interview successful lawyers on our Legal Practice Management Course on what led to their success.
We also have a lot of such events at LawSikho office with top lawyers, clips of which interactions you can watch on the LawSikho YouTube channel here.
I also had the benefit of guiding and observing many of my students go through various paths to eventual success in their career, as I have been in the legal education business for well over 10 years now.
There are a few things I have observed to be almost uniform amongst the outliers – lawyers who succeeded against all odds, and succeeded big.
What are the habits that can lead to lawyers’ growth to be inevitable and inexorable? Let me run you through them.
Learning and development
The top habit of the most successful lawyers is that of continuous learning. The best lawyers I know are like knowledge acquisition machines. They grab every chance to learn something new.
I have seen even senior lawyers and top counsels who are so eager to learn that they do not hesitate to ask the most basic questions to someone younger than them if that would help them to learn something they do not know yet!
I know a very senior lawyer who learned Linux and used only Linux on his computer to ensure a higher level of cybersecurity as Linux based computers are harder to hack. Imagine that level of commitment to constant growth and improvement! That is a marked distinction of a lawyer who is destined for greatness.
On the other hand, average lawyers say: but why should I learn that? There is not enough work of that nature in my town.
Well, if you keep learning, your practice may not remain restricted to a small town? How about that?
If you want to succeed as a lawyer at the highest level, or even at the entry-level, the solution lies in learning practical skills that will help you to deliver results to your clients.
There is no dearth of legal work, but there is a great dearth of good legal advisors who can get the job done.
If you can build a habit of dedicating at least 1 hour per day to learning about new areas of law that you are not familiar with yet, or even to go deeper in the area in which you already practice, it will start producing some wonderful results within a few months, and over a few years you will be surging ahead of all of your peers.
It is such a no brainer, and yet so few lawyers ever bother to develop this habit that it is painful to even imagine the wasted opportunity.
Learn to put your ears to the ground
I am currently in Jaipur. I was having a conversation with a young lawyer. He told me that there is not enough work in Jaipur. Barely anything to make ends meet.
I told him I have seen an insane number of cafes, restaurants, and bars in Jaipur, far more than I see anywhere else. Do you agree that there has been a surge in the food and entertainment industry here? What are their legal needs?
Do they need licenses, compliances, tax support, trademarks, contracts with vendors, do their vendors need money recovery services when these food businesses wrap up or fail to pay up on time?
What about real estate? I can see Jaipur has sprawling real estate all around, some parts of it look like Gurgaon with shiny malls and glass and steel office buildings. What are the needs of those real estate companies? Do they need compliance-related work done? What licenses do they need to start new projects? Why do their projects get delayed or get stuck? What are the builders ready to pay for? What contracts do they need to enter in?
Are you going and figuring out what kind of legal support those builders or the businesses inside those glass buildings require?
The truth is that most lawyers are sitting in their chambers around the High Court and waiting for clients to come in through the door. They are trying to emulate the generation of lawyers that came before them and that does not work anymore.
Enterprising lawyers, on the other hand, are having a field day, raking in the money simply by being in touch with the business world and learning what needs to be done to service to new emerging markets!
This is not the story of just Jaipur. Every city and district has its own opportunities, much of which remains untapped because lawyers have not learned to identify those demands and therefore failed to create any mechanism to satisfy those demands from the market.
Writing is a way of thinking. It helps a lawyer to validate ideas, put research and knowledge into context, create a coherent narrative, incrementally improve their arguments and narratives, and trains them to think in a logical way. This is one of the most basic benefits of developing the habit of writing.
The craziest benefits come at the next level though.
When you write frequently, you develop formidable knowledge of the subjects on which you write regularly. Also, your written articles are demonstrations of your knowledge and interest in the subject, which means that they help you to reach out to other people and share your knowledge with them, and therefore build your own brand.
A lot of law firms have banned associates from writing legal articles and publishing. Guess why? Writing is a business development article they want to limit for partners. Associates who write frequently build-up their own clientele. They don’t want associates to do it.
When people join our Dream Job Bootcamp, our primary way to train them is to make them write one or two articles every day. On one hand, the rigorous schedule of research and writing ensures that students develop the ability to do intellectual work at a stretch. They also develop a high standard of rigour and clarity in their writing.
When their articles begin to get published and they write dozens of new articles, not only their confidence grows, but their knowledge about a topic also grows drastically. Suddenly they develop the ability to hold an informed conversation about an area of law during an interview.
Also as they begin to publish and their work gets noticed, they share the articles in their social networks and in their peer group, new opportunities open up for them that were otherwise not available.
We have also implemented mandatory article writing for students of our premium courses which has led to great success.
It is a great idea to regularly write around one subject, at least for a while, so that a body of work builds up around a theme. This helps you to go deeper as well as later publish a book or collection of articles, which is very helpful for the image of a lawyer as a serious practitioner.
It is important to publish on platforms where your article will be widely read rather than only by a few academics. For this purpose, academic journals usually do not make a good destination for your articles. It is far more fruitful to publish on popular online media where you may get thousands or even millions of readers, and therefore massive exposure!
Many celebrated doyens of the bar regularly write columns for newspapers and online legal media websites. Could that be a mere coincidence?
Developing a habit of regular writing can totally transform your level of success as a lawyer.
Pro bono work
Pro bono work is not for charity alone, it has tremendous benefits on your own practice. I recommend that you develop a habit of doing pro bono work regularly. Maybe once a week, or at least once a month you could take up a pro bono matter. Even as a student, you are free to build this habit.
You don’t do pro bono work for clients who can pay but would rather not. You need to work for people who are truly helpless or NGOs and social organizations that work for such people. It could be the filing of PILs or fighting in anti-trafficking cases, or helping those who cannot get bail by volunteering his time. You can volunteer to fight against animal cruelty, for example.
Many poor people get terrible government allotted lawyers who screw up their cases.
My friend Amish Aggarwala recently fought and won such a case that he took up pro bono, for a man Sarabjeet Singh who was falsely branded Dilli ka Darinda by media. This is a good example of the type of cases that deserve pro bono attention.
Lawyers have a reputation that they are cutthroat and have no regard for the interests of their clients. Regularly doing pro bono work and being known for the same brings a humane face to your practice, and encourages the common people, other lawyers, and even judges to trust you because they can see that your heart is in the right place.
Also doing pro bono work in volume in the early years gives you a lot of opportunities to appear before the court, figure out the court and government systems, build relationships in critical places. It is a great way to speed up learning.
The beneficiaries of your pro bono work are also likely to talk about you very highly leading to more clients approaching you.
You need to also have a limit on how many pro bono cases you will take in a week or in a month, as otherwise you will get flooded with such requests and have no time to do paid work or other productive things. It is important to draw a line.
The impact of pro bono work is grossly underestimated by most lawyers! They feel that doing pro bono work will encourage freeloaders.
You must set boundaries on what kind of matters you will do for free and what you will not do.
Doing pro bono work does not mean not asking for your fees or not taking an advance from other paying clients! You must deal with your clients professionally, and being humane does not mean you ignore your economic interests!
It is important for a lawyer to talk about matters of great public interest in a public manner. Many lawyers think taking a side in a public debate is a bad idea because it will alienate the people who do not agree with you. Sure it will, but anyway, your goal is not to have the whole world as your client, unless you are a big law firm with 100+ lawyers.
When you take a side in such debates, there would be people who agree and identify with you and would therefore want to work with you. They will trust you more than those who stay neutral.
Also when you talk about matters of public importance, maybe on TV or through columns on news media, or even your own YouTube channel or blog if necessary, it helps you to emerge as a thought leader and you get noticed widely by potential clients, other lawyers, media and even judges.
This is why getting involved with politics often help lawyers a great deal.
While some judges and lawyers will get threatened by your early rise and may try to intimidate you or put you down when you are gaining too much attention and fame, especially in a smaller city, but if you stay the course, you have nothing to worry about. Every highly successful lawyer goes through a few episodes like that.
Networking is a critical habit of lawyers that determine their success to a great extent. However, networking is not exchanging cards or shaking hands with people. Unless you have meaningful interactions that lead to value addition to the person you are connecting with, you will not be remembered and the connection will serve no purpose.
Networking, therefore, is figuring out how to add lots of value to other people at scale.
And you have to start small. Initially, you should be looking to add value to people in every interaction you have with them, one at a time.
I found my first client when I kept sending useful information to a CEO I met in a local startup event. It was not a habit back then, but a one-off thing I managed to pull off. I got it right accidentally.
When I started ClikLawyer, therefore, I made sure I call lots of people I knew who had a business and made it a habit to learn what is going on in their business. I spoke to them at length about their worries and challenges and also educated them on what they need to do in order to prevent future legal complications. As a result, many of them began to refer work to me within a few months. Their own, as well as their friends and colleagues!
You can’t do networking unless you are being generous. You have to add value first, without asking for anything back. If you do that enough number of times with enough people, you will start to see returns without having to ask for it.
However, I often asked my friends, and still do, for favours whenever I need one. Just like I never hesitate to extend a favour that is in my power, neither do I stop myself from asking one when I need it.
That is how productive and meaningful professional relationships, based on mutual trust and respect are created, as we exchange value.
As a lawyer, your oratory skills are important.
When you are seen speaking about legal issues in a lucid, persuasive, powerful way, you attract that right kind of attention.
It is great if you get to speak on TV or a big stage, but do not wait for it. Seize every opportunity to speak. I really learned to speak by teaching for CLAT and other law entrances. Later, I began to speak in law colleges.
Back in 2013, I visited almost 50 engineering colleges, delivering lectures to hundreds of engineers about patents, technology law and how engineers and entrepreneurs can benefit from learning the law. That really helped me to kick off my speaking career, which led to an invitation to IITs, NITs, IIM and even ISB Hyderabad to speak or offer workshops to students.
Maybe nobody is inviting you to speak. Not to worry, make youtube videos! Or produce some podcasts about the legal topics that you are very passionate about. If you make something good, share it with us, we would be happy to promote and support you!
Approach local schools and colleges for an opportunity to speak! Offer free guest lectures, colleges love it. Reach out to event organizers with interesting topics and see if they will give you a spot.
Volunteer for events, and you will find easier to get a speaking slot in such events.
When I was very young, and just a year old into the profession, I still got speaking gigs at startup events because I volunteered at Startup Saturday and knew all the other event organizers very well in multiple cities and they owed me favors! Plus everyone wanted to encourage me, so I got speaking slots, and found paid clients from almost every single speaking opportunity!
I see so many lawyers never reach their true potential because they remain solo players. They fail to scale. They fail to build a team. It is critical to learn how to build a team for every lawyer. Solo practitioners too, need an underlying organization to be truly successful.
However, how to recruit a team and how to make them productive is a hard lesson to learn. It took me many years. It is not as simple as hiring people with top credentials or having lots of money to hire.
I am still learning.
You need to be at it as soon as you can. You do not wait to start a business and to have money to hire people to start team-building. I always considered that I will one day have a company, and wanted to figure out who I will be hiring. I started collaborating with people on various projects, began to mentor them, and built relationships while I was still in law school!
It is not a mere coincidence that my cofounder is also my college mate, and we spent a lot of time in college in collaborating on various things like papers and moots! Even today, my juniors and seniors from NUJS collaborate with me in various ways.
Build a team, become part of a team, you don’t need to start a law firm or a company to do it.
Seeking mentorship, providing mentorship, supporting others in their endeavor and backing others when they need it should be a habit, and you should be doing it at every given opportunity.
Understanding where things are headed
This is a critical habit to develop. Most lawyers emulate their seniors, instead of trying to understand the new trends. Where are things headed? That is important to understand and evaluate continuously. We cannot assume that things that worked 10 years back for our seniors will now work for us.
For example, if you had to open a tea stall in a place where there are already 10 other tea stalls, you would be worried if that is a good idea because there is already so much competition. You may want to open a coffee shop or a lassi shop there rather than being just another tea shop. It beats me why lawyers forget this basic thing while they are trying to build their legal careers!
What is the situation of the economy? What is your prediction about the next 5 years about which industries will rise and what will fall? What are the gaps in the market given the current situation? What are the lawyers leaving unserved or underserved? Where can you provide more value to clients than what they are already getting?
You need to develop a habit to study what is going on and what is going to happen. This is a key determinant of which lawyers will succeed because the market is always going to shift. Even if you succeed with something once, you cannot really sit on a throne and pass away your life, because someone else is hustling around the corner to steal your lunch. If you are not alert, we are living in a time when you will lose the plot way faster than you found it.
Please track the market. Please track the economy. Please track how business, regulations, and sentiments are shifting. You need to make a habit of it.
Want our help in developing some productive lawyer habits?
We are always prepared to help you. We believe and count on the power of habits, and our courses are built around the idea that we need to inculcate these important habits into you. You can experience it for a month by joining any course as there is a refund policy – if you don’t like it, or if you don’t benefit, you can get your money back, no questions asked. See our amazing LawSikho refund policy here.
Here are some courses in which we are accepting enrollment until the end of this month:
EXECUTIVE CERTIFICATE COURSES
Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skill.