6 Lessons from the Redefining Success Series
We recently got the chance to sit down with a community of entrepreneurial attorneys to share lessons learned from their not-so-linear legal career experiences - off the traditional path - to create a whole new way of practicing law. During their extensive careers in law, many had adventure stories with life-defining moments along the way, like leaving a practice to crew a sailboat in Borneo, or learning to fix a motorcycle in the remote Gobi Desert, just to name a few – far too many to list (for the full experience, you can see a recording of the session here).
Below are 6 lessons from that discussion that can help other more entrepreneurially-minded attorneys who are ready to take their legal careers into their own hands and blaze a new path.
- Progress isn’t always linear but that idea should be embraced, not feared.
“My father had something he called the pinball theory of life – you think you’re going on a straight trajectory but you bump up against experiences and people that change that. Nothing works forever. We’re constantly pivoting, and that’s a positive thing.” - Kristen Smith Dayley, Scale LLP Partner, Corporate & Securities
There’s no one-size-fits-all to a career in law. Your path can always change. If you haven’t already experienced career pivots, you will soon and you will experience more of them going forward. Being open to flexibility and walking through those open doors when they show up will always be the better choice. Not only that, but making these pivots will only supply you with more experience that can help in future situations, and you will come out the other side a better lawyer and an all-around happier person instead of being resistant to change.
- Operate with intention and don’t be afraid to take that first step off of the “traditional path” – it will benefit you in the end.
“I went from working in BigLaw and having a comfortable house in Del Mar and making good money to having eight square feet of my own space on a sailboat…but I came back an even better lawyer.” - Marissa Fox, Scale LLP Partner, Real Estate & Land Use
First things first, get away from the traditional metrics of success like being at a big law firm or working on huge client matters. You’re often trained in law school that there’s one set path and, if you deviate from it, you’re doing the wrong thing. Young associates in particular often get overwhelmed and overworked by trying to maintain this path. So this formula for success has been ingrained in many attorneys over their entire careers and it can be a challenging mindset to let go of. Once you take the leap off of that traditional path and still find success in whatever it is you choose to do, you will find that you’re a better, more confident lawyer when you return to practicing law because there is intention behind your choices, as opposed to going down the traditional path because you feel it’s what you ought to do.
- Lean on a combination of inward reflection and closely regarded colleagues you can talk to.
“These definitions of success really start with an inward reflection of asking “What do I want?” and then continuing that inward reflection because what I want now actually changes maybe six months from now, and then a year from now, and continuing that over and over.” - Heather Cantua, Scale LLP Deputy Managing Partner, Fintech & Financial Services Litigation
Take time to think inwardly about what you really want out of your career and what feels most fulfilling to you in the profession on a regular basis, because it can change. But don’t go through this process alone. Have a handful of people that know you, know your career, and that you trust to talk to about it. A mix of inward reflection and having a roster of mentors to check in with on your career journey will help you define what you want next. After all, it’s the people who you work with, and the relationships that you form long-term that are what build your career path and give you opportunities over time.
- If you have a vision in mind – don’t be afraid to ask for it.
“Ask for your dreams. Realize your dreams may sound crazy but they’re preparing you for something that you don’t know yet.” - Heather Cantua
As you progress through your career, take time to consider and define your dreams both personally and professionally, then work to seek them out. This can certainly be difficult. Naturally, we often struggle with asking for what we really want for fear of being perceived as selfish or demanding, or maybe we opt out by thinking our dreams just aren’t possible. The truth is, the worst that your employer, your boss, your peers, or anyone else can say is “no”. What’s more, by asking, at least you find out if who you’re working with supports your dreams or not. Life is short – it never hurts to ask.
- Imposter syndrome is real but once you make a giant step, that creates confidence.
“My CLO told me I was making a huge mistake, but at that point, it wasn’t frightening anymore. I had already come through once before, I knew I could do it again. That was really helpful having that confidence.” - Kristen Smith Dayley
Much like with asking for what we want, taking initiative to overcome feelings of imposter syndrome can also prove difficult. But taking that first step creates the confidence necessary to do it again and again and can lead to having more ownership over your work. Whether that confidence is directed toward deciding what kind of legal work you’re going to seek out, who your clients are, saying no to certain clients if you don’t want to do the work, or taking on matters and causes that are important to you, it all starts with taking stock of everything you’ve accomplished and taking that for what it is – evidence that you can succeed again.
- Reframe times of struggle or difficulty as moments for growth.
“Stop labeling your blessings as curses. Instead of cursing things not going up and to the right as I want them to, I’m taking them as opportunities to grow.” - Heather Cantua
Whether in our personal or professional lives, every moment of difficulty is an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and grow from the experience to be more resilient and introspective individuals. For some attorneys, this comes in the form of losing clients, feeling overworked, or moving to an in-house role, where limits to resources can be common. But these experiences can and should be used as training grounds for future moments of difficulty in your career and as tools for building a more robust skillset to meet future struggles with confidence.
If you’re interested in joining the dialogue in future sessions, information on the Redefining Success 2023 Series can be found here.