As I reflect on another year out of law school, I have had the opportunity to think about all that I have learned over the years. I have had the distinct privilege and honor to learn from the finest attorneys in various fields who have been gracious to share their knowledge and expertise. They include public defenders, prosecutors, civil litigators, public servants, and transactional attorneys. No matter their practice area, these attorneys I know exhibit similar qualities and habits that have made them a success in their field.
Always Be Prepared
The successful attorneys I know emphasize preparation. Not only do they go the extra mile, they make sure that they have prepared for every imaginable scenario. The attorneys I have been most influenced by practice arguments never made, prepare documents they never need, and examine every angle of the case before proceeding. What I have learned is that preparation is never a waste of time.
The successful attorneys I know maintain balance in their lives. These attorneys make time to spend with family, get up early to exercise, and stay involved in the community. I have observed many attorneys at the gym after long hours of work. They also give up Saturday mornings to volunteer, and make sure they are home in time for dinner with their families when possible.
Never Lose Empathy
One of the greatest lessons I have learned from successful attorneys I know is the power of empathy. The attorneys I know who are the best advocates are able to step into the shoes of those they represent. They are effective representatives because they listen well and maintain a high level of understanding.
Maintain Character and Integrity
The most respected lawyers I know maintain their integrity in spite of opposition. The attorneys I know who are most successful are respectful of legal adversaries, opposing counsel, and staff. They offer respect to others even when it is not returned.
Never Stop Growing
The attorneys I admire always stay on top of the legal developments in their field. They increase knowledge in their practice area by constantly staying informed, reading case law, and staying abreast of changes in the law. They read legal journals, periodicals, ask questions, attend continuing legal education, conferences, and learn by observing others. They remain teachable.
The most impactful attorneys I know exude success because they have a sense of purpose. They strive for excellence because they work toward something much greater than themselves. They give back. They mentor up-and-coming attorneys. They make themselves available to provide advice, feedback and support to colleagues. They regularly do things that bring meaning in their lives. I will never forget the time I witnessed a senior attorney provide assistance to a newer attorney that he didn’t even know in court. These attorneys take responsibility and offer help to newer attorneys learning to navigate the legal process.
I have observed those who are most successful never turn down the opportunity to meet other attorneys. They get to know people across various fields and areas of practice. When asked to assist with issues that may go beyond their practice area, they are able to refer someone seeking help to someone more capable of resolving an issue. They make themselves available to connect with people and collaborate. They accomplish this through bar association activities, professional organizations, and informal social gatherings that enable them to maintain a sense of community.
The most successful lawyers I know may not have graduated from a top law school or the top 5% of their class. However, they make an effort each day to be excellent, to advocate on behalf of their client, and exhaust every proper channel to find the answer they need. They make themselves accessible when needed and they don’t stop until they have given all they have.
About the Author
Lindsay Powell is a civil litigator in Fairfax, Virginia. She handles matters involving contracts, real estate, and landlord-tenant disputes. She serves as the Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference 4th District Representative, representing Alexandria, Arlington and Falls Church. She also serves as co-chair of the organization’s Mentorship Network. She has experience in both the public and private sectors, in addition to pro bono work in Virginia and Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and received her law degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law.