In law school, you are taught to “think like a lawyer.” Most law schools do a great job at preparing their students to do just that. Where many law schools fail, unfortunately, is to prepare students to conduct business like a lawyer. This is quite a challenge. According to a report published by the American Bar Association in 2012, of all attorneys in private practice, 63% belonged to firms of five or fewer attorneys. (Your humble author included.) So chances are that you’ll have to learn not only the law but the business of law.
Your law school may not offer courses on operating your law practice, but there are things you could do right now to build your skills in managing your future legal business.
Face Your Finances
Running a law practice, like running any business, requires hard work, vigilance, and patience. Billing, collections, payroll, expenses, and client trust funds all occupy your concern. It can be a rewarding challenge, both personally and financially, but it requires practice. Start now by getting on a budget. It’s not the most fun thing to do, especially while you’re focused on learning in law school, but it’s absolutely vital. After a while, it becomes second-nature, even fun! Like a pleasant version of Stockholm Syndrome. You can use paper and pen, an Excel spreadsheet, or another software program (like my personal favorite, YNAB).
Your Class Is Your Client
As a law student, there is a certain amount of self-centeredness required to excel. How are you doing in your individual classes? Are you towards the top of your class or not? Did you get the coveted summer clerkship?
Unlike law school, the practice of law requires that we become other-centered. What are your client’s needs or interests? And how can you best serve them? You can practice other-centeredness now: treat your class like a client. Imagine that a good grade is less about your personal success, and more about achieving a beneficial outcome for your client. Frankly, it’s little more than an attitudinal shift, but it’s one that may nonetheless pay dividends. Are you briefing cases, taking smart notes, and paying attention in class in a way that will make you most effective?
Some classes require more effort than others (the same will prove true for your clients). In either case, it’s best to avoid the temptation to focus on the easy, fun cases or clients at the expense of your more troublesome ones. This serves no one.
In private practice, you’ll be quickly reminded that “no man is an island.” To do your job with any competence (and confidence), you’ll need to lean on the skills and good will of others. Paralegals and secretaries will streamline much of the routine work which would otherwise require hours of your time. Court clerks, bailiffs, and other personnel will help you navigate the intricacies of the court while preventing you from looking like a fool in front of the judge.
Keeping your work flowing smoothly, both in the office and at the courthouse, requires you to maintain these relationships. It’s what Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” called “production capability” – the capability to increase your work performance without actually working more by relying on the talents of others.
Start practicing those people skills now. Both professors and administrative staff at your law school want the same thing – your success! So never be reluctant to ask questions or seek help if the need arises. By leaning on the helping hands of others, you reduce your learning curve and free yourself up to focus more on academic concerns.
Act as if you are a lawyer already! By putting these ideas to practice, you can use your law school experience to better prepare yourself not just academically, but practically, for the practice of law.
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Other helpful law school tips:
- No, The Gunnar To the Left Doesn’t Know What He’s Doing Either
- Want to Get Good Law School Grades – Become a Self-Starter
- More Must Have Apps for Law Students
- How to Think Like a Successful Law Student
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