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Top 5 lessons I learned from interviewing over 70 lawyers

By Nicole Abboud

Nicole AbboudWe’re told as young lawyers to network, network, network. That’s the key to personal and business growth. Since we can all basically agree that this advice is solid, I won’t spend time discussing the importance of networking. Instead, I want to share with you a few of the valuable lessons I have learned and personal development advice I have received through my preferred networking method – my podcast. Through my show, “The Gen Why Lawyer Podcast,” I have been able to interview lawyers from across the U.S. Here are the top five lessons I have learned from speaking with more than 70 phenomenal lawyers.

Lesson 1: Being different is good

Being told to be different in a profession where conformity has been the norm and tradition runs deep is no easy message to spread. But what if being a great attorney meant tapping into what makes you weird and different? What if your success as a lawyer doesn’t rely on just your skills and knowledge but on your personality quirks and individuality?

In Episode 9 of the podcast, I spoke with Mitch Jackson, a trial lawyer from Southern California, who explained to me the importance of discovering your “secret sauce” – that thing that makes you different from everyone else – and being brave enough to share it with the world. He said if you’re practicing law like everyone else, you’re doing something wrong. Potential clients want to see that you can offer them something no other lawyer can. Although there are many competent, skilled lawyers in this profession, only you can tap into your unique skills to offer clients your exclusive service.

In Episode 36, I spoke with a lawyer named Rob Schenk from Atlanta, Georgia. Rob created a name for himself as the “Wedding Industry Lawyer.” He saw the value in picking a specific niche area of law in order to stand out. In fact, niching down is a common practice I see among my guests. By picking a niche practice area, you can serve a specific community of people, and you can become a thought leader in that space. Although picking a niche area might seem limiting, in fact it allows you to stand out and attract more business.

Lesson 2: Productivity, although the enemy of the billable hour, is your friend

I connected with a lawyer by the name of Shemia Fagan in Episode 31. Shemia, a mother, lawyer, and Oregon State Legislator, is one busy lady. When we spoke, she shared with me several time-saving tricks, but the biggest takeaway from our conversation was the time-management concept known as “Eating the Frog.” Shemia explained that eating the frog was a method of prioritizing all of the tasks that require your attention for the day and tackling your biggest, toughest task first instead of putting it off while working on less important tasks. By first tending to items you normally put off, you will feel better and notice that every subsequent task doesn’t seem as daunting.

I spoke with a young lawyer and business owner from New York named Kerriann Stout. Kerriann stressed the importance of delegation and hiring help. Many of us lawyers tend to take on a lot and refuse to ask for help, whether it’s at work or in our personal lives. Well, busy does not necessarily mean productive. To that end, Kerriann has been enlisting the help of virtual assistants to work on tasks that do not require her attention and can easily be delegated. By prioritizing her tasks and valuing her time, Kerriann is able to focus her energy on what’s most important.

Lesson 3: Give to get

In Episode 22, I spoke with an attorney from Canada named Mandy Woodland. In addition to running her successful transactional law practice, Mandy serves as a board member for several local organizations and still finds time to volunteer in her community. Mandy inspired me and my listeners to want to volunteer more of our time to helping individuals in our communities. We realize how lucky we are, as lawyers, to be in positions where we’re able to help those who lack access to justice.

Of course, aside from the altruistic aspect of volunteering, there’s also a personal benefit (let’s be honest – we were all thinking what’s in it for us?). When you volunteer your time and knowledge to help others in your community, you reap by way of expanding your network, sharpening your practical skills and raising awareness about your personal brand. Thus, when you give, you ultimately get.

Lesson 4: Patience is a virtue (yet a rarity) in the legal profession

I had the pleasure of interviewing Lenise Williams, Genavieve Shingle and Dana Robinson. All three of these lawyers have built wildly successful businesses. I noticed a common thread that connected all three of these amazing lawyers, and it was the fact that all three of them failed. They were faced with some failures in their journeys, including near bankruptcy, divorce or failed business ventures. What made them all so inspirational was that they did not give up. They recognized the importance of patience: the patience to rebuild, the patience to see the long-term game instead of focusing on the short-term gains, and the patience to realize that there is no magic potion for success. Building a career and life you love takes years, and all of those years are built on small actions that we take daily.

Lesson 5: Happiness can be created

I met a young (former) lawyer by the name of Aria Safar in Episode 20. He talked to me about the importance of finding yourself and exploring your interests outside of the law. Aria practiced law for a few years and then found a fulfilling job in the legal tech industry. Aria and I spoke about the significance of only surrounding yourself with items that spark joy. Yes, I said items, as in inanimate objects. We rarely think about whether or not the items we surround ourselves with, like the books on our desks and the portraits on our walls, bring us joy. Aria’s recommendation was based on a book he had read called “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. It’s definitely worth checking out.

I met and spoke with Crystal Marsh, an attorney-turned millennial business and career coach. Crystal and I spoke about pausing to evaluate our goals and desires. The emphasis was on “pausing.” We discussed how many young lawyers rush through their careers without stopping to think about what makes them happy, what positions will best highlight their strengths and qualities, and who they ultimately want to help. It’s only when we slow down and become self-aware that we discover what role we’re supposed to play in this world.

I am continuously amazed by the lawyers I get to spend time with on my podcast. I hope you find value in these five lessons and take them to heart the way I have.

Nicole Abboud is a millennial speaker, attorney, business owner, podcaster and college professor. Through her speaking and podcasting, Nicole hopes to inspire millennials to shake off their fear of being unconventional and embrace their unique voice.