Get to Know the Local Judges and Clerks
One of the best ways to build your brand is to establish a reputation as a young, hardworking lawyer who is willing to learn. Judges and clerks recognize this trait immediately. You can convey that image through your court appearances but also through attending bar association functions, investiture ceremonies where new judges are sworn in, retirement parties, and various meet-and-greet events at the courthouse.
Specialize Your Practice
Tailor your practice to focus on a limited number of areas of law and branch out to a wider range of practice areas once you have mastered your core areas. Don’t be afraid of sending clients to more experienced attorneys at first.
For example, I had a detailed list of attorneys to refer callers when I first started my solo practice if they were seeking legal help outside of criminal or family law. By not leaving potential clients empty-handed without a referral, it increases the likelihood that they will call you back in the future. I have found this to be true as many have called back to consult with and retain me on the matters in which I specialize.
Don’t Be Tempted to Take on Too Much
Make a commitment to focusing on developing your skills, which is most important to establishing your brand as a young lawyer. While networking is extremely important early on and throughout your legal career, try not to take on too many leadership roles or join too many boards and committees. This advice also applies to taking on too many clients and cases, especially in your early practice. Make sure you are able to allot enough time to your caseload while also participating in a few activities to advance your career.
Do Pro Bono and Volunteer Work
Whether it is taking on the occasional pro bono case with your local legal aid society or serving as a board member of a non-profit organization, volunteer work is fulfilling and a positive addition to a young lawyer’s life. It also helps you to continue to present yourself in a good light to the court and helps fill in the access to justice gap. It can also help you adjust to new practice areas with great resources while under the guidance of more experienced counsel. Unless pro bono service is going to be your business model, be very choosy about the types of cases you take on and know in advance how long the case will take to finish.
Do the Work to Be Great
Learn! Take advantage of the variety of resources available to young lawyers, many of which are free or available to new lawyers at reduced rates. Think of CLEs as opportunities as opposed to mere requirements to keep your law license.
For example, the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission, Virginia Poverty Law Center, Commonwealth’s Attorneys’ Services Council, Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and several bar associations offer countless CLE opportunities during each year.
About the Author
Jamilah LeCruise manages her own practice in Norfolk where she focuses on criminal defense and divorce matters. She is a graduate of the William & Mary School of Law and is the 2020 Virginia State Bar Young Lawyer of the Year. She can be reached at (757) 627-5215.