This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, iPleaders.
What are the 3 core principles one can follow to succeed as a lawyer? I was posed this question all of a sudden last evening as I was attending to some seekh kebab at a restaurant next to radio club in Colaba.
I know Pritish for many years now. Several years back he interned with me when he was a student at Symbiosis Law School Pune. Currently, he works under a lawyer at Bombay High Court, doing a lot of tax matter.
He is a hard working person. He wasn’t hard working back in college, but now he really stands out. Making steady progress in his legal journey every day, he keeps track of every lecture happening in town and attends them. He reads autobiographies of legal luminaries like Palkhivala and Fali Nariman in his bed before he falls asleep. He sits in court when he gets time and listens to the doyens arguing and judges sparring with words and legal positions.
He is steadfastly pursuing the journey to be a good counsel in the Bombay bar.
So Pritish knows about my own journey to understand the legal profession and teach my students how to be better at their work. Pritish asked me, what are the three most important things he can work on that will ensure his success?
That’s really a deep question. It made me think of all the superlawyer interviews, an hour with lawsikho sessions, working on creating a course on legal practice management and many private meetings with some of the most successful lawyers in India.
I am not a successful lawyer, not having pursued that path. However, that is my strength too when it comes to this question. My answer is not based on personal anecdotes, but a distillation of wisdom of many different people. I suppose very few would have pursued this question as I have.
I gave the seekh kebabs a rest and shared my two pennies with Pritish. Rather than principles or focus areas, I suggested that he develops three habits or practices.
Relentlessly upgrade your skills and knowledge
Being a lawyer is like being an athlete, or a swimmer, or a tennis player. You constantly practice, and not only in the court, to become better, better, better. A never-ending pursuit.
Law is the profession of the learned. Learning will never be over. It is not enough to know even the law, you need to know what is going on in the world, in the economy, in politics and governance. You need to be familiar with all that.
As far as the law is concerned, you need to have in-depth, specialized, detailed knowledge. That gives you the edge over other lawyers. Once upon a time, you could just read a lot of judgments every day, and that set you apart. Now this matters a lot less thanks to amazing software that can find the case law you need superfast.
Now what sets you apart is your knowledge of industries, market practices, problems people are facing and how to solve them. It’s a constant process of evolution.
If you don’t spend a few hours every day working on your knowledge and learning new skills, you will be mediocre at best.
Be very very worried if you are not regularly engaging in learning and development pursuits. I recommend at least one hour a day at least if not more.
This is why our premium courses require you to spend 7-8 hours every week, including attending one live class every week. Otherwise, practice a skill and get feedback on your output. You don’t have to necessarily take a course, you can practice this at home or at the office if you have a supportive boss or mentor who can find enough time for you.
If nothing else, spend an hour reading law, and another hour about other skills relevant to your practice, every day.
Work on practice development and management
There are too many lawyers who know enough but do not have matters. Or have a few but never will make it big due to poor practice development and management skills.
This becomes more and more important as you grow older.
The story that they will come if you are good enough is a myth. It may happen to a lucky few in a few practice areas but mostly it does not apply to the average lawyer.
On the other hand, many lawyers who are mediocre initially manage to find and retain good clients, keep learning enough along the way and become amazing in their chosen practice area over the years.
A lot of work is quite simple, require diligence and basic expertise in more parts than some crazy rocket science skills. You get paid well even for such work.
Learn from what you can get, no work is too small. And deliver results to your clients. Make sure they are treated right. Make sure they have a great experience interacting with you and your staff.
For instance, a lot of back and forth happens when you are trying to draft a contract, trying to get commercials and other mundane details. I know lawyers who start off by sending a form to the client which the client has to fill up before contract drafting even starts.
This reduces the chance of client forgetting to supply any important info, or the lawyer forgetting to ask something. The whole experience becomes seamless. The client sees the difference, appreciates and remembers.
Another example is sending updates through SMS about case dates, hearings, orders. Imagine how amazon updates you about every movement of your shipping. Your package just left from our Pune Warehouse. The package is out for delivery. Every detail is updated.
Don’t you appreciate that?
There are lawyers who are tired of dealing with clients calling up during work hours trying to get updates on their case. There are others who proactively install software that provides all such details even before the client can ask. Who will you go to for your next case?
There are lawyers who master networking, read fat books on networking, spends money on conferences and meetings, actively cultivating long-term mutually beneficial relationships, while others sit in their chamber sipping tea and cursing how they are unlucky not to have a father-in-law who is a judge.
Who will get more clients?
There is a lot more to practice development and management than I can write here. But those of you who make an effort to learn about it and work on it will go much further than those who will not.
Writing and publications
If there would be one thing that is going to be common amongst all the amazing lawyers you will ever meet, apart from the fact that they will be obscenely rich, will be that they are all prolific writers.
The doyens of the bar are all authors, columnists, contributors to national dailies. Do you think that is a coincidence?
Even look at the founders of the most popular legal blogs in India and USA. Bloggers like Somasekhar Sundaresan, Umakanth Varottil, Shamnad Basheer, Tarunabh Khaitan, Apar Gupta – they are or have been prolific writers.
Writing helps you to organize your thoughts, sharpen your arguments and engage meaningfully in larger debates in our environment. As a writer, in the beginning, you start by demonstrating your knowledge and skills, and soon start contributing to the important discourses, and finally emerge as an influencer.
You earn respect, gain supporters and visibility, and make a difference to others.
I remember Arvind Datar once credited his success as a lawyer to a large extent to writing and scholarship. Editing Ramaiyya was a turning point for him.
If there is nothing else you can do, just write for one hour every day, and publish at least once a week. In the age of social media, I strongly recommend that you publish in blogs rather than arcane law journals that nobody reads. I will recommend Livelaw.in for their excellent turn around time, and also iPleaders blog. You can submit your articles to iPleaders over here.
This is why we make our students write and publish articles at least once a week in all our premium courses. In Dream Job Boot Camp, they are expected to write much more frequently.
Hope this will help you in the new year.
If you want to constantly learn and upgrade yourself, check out our online courses.