For today’s diatribe, we are going to need a definition of ‘success.’ Although the traditional definition which relates primarily to making a lot of money is deficient in more than a few ways, since it seems to be the standard used by so many in the legal profession, I am going to choose that one.
There are only three ways to make money in the legal profession.
First, you can be so brilliant that people are willing to pay you big bucks because of your big brain. Most of us do not qualify.
Second, you can work many hours and churn out humongous billings. That gets quite tedious after a while.
Third, you can bring in many clients and get other people to do the work. That is where the money and the job security is. In this regard, the legal profession is no different than any other business – sales are valued above everything else. Even brains.
Back when I was younger, so much younger than today, my father and mother owned a profitable insurance agency which they would have been quite happy to turn over to me. But I saw my father’s job as being a salesperson (or salesman as we used to call them), and I told dear old dad that I wanted to be a professional, not a salesman.
Since I did pretty well in my scholastic career, I figured that I would be a shoo-in for success in the legal profession.
Now, I never claimed to be brilliant, but I did think that I was smarter than the average bear. It is for this reason that I was surprised to discover that my stellar academic record did not translate directly into success in the legal profession. It turns out that being good at writing exams does not count for as much as you would think in the legal profession, which is particularly strange given how much importance it is given in the hiring process.
During my career practicing law I ran across a few lawyers who were brilliant, and many more who were not. I also met a few lawyers who were very successful, and quite a few more who were really not.
What the young folks might find interesting is that that there was very little correlation between the two groups. This will be counter-intuitive to many new graduates who have been brought up with the idea that success in life and law has something to do with getting good grades. It does not, actually.
Some of the brightest lawyers who I came across practicing law were not successful. They knew a lot of stuff but had no ability to apply their knowledge in practical ways and were incapable of winning a client’s confidence.
Others were pretty smart but simply did not believe in themselves and so were not able to convince others to believe in them. They also failed to achieve much success.
The really successful ones? Great salespeople, one and all!
My advice to the young folks? Work on your confidence, your empathy, and your humanity and take some courses in sales. There is no point to being brilliant if you have no clients to show off to.