Last year, I wrote an article offering professionalism tips to Millennial attorneys. The feedback was terrific, but some of the responses pointed out that Millennials aren’t always first or second year attorneys. Instead many, like myself, have been practicing for almost 10 years. What they need now isn’t advice on how to start out. Rather, they need advice on how to keep rising up. That’s why I wrote this follow-up piece, this time for rising Millennial attorneys. See if you can spot all the Hamilton references.
1. Stay Diligent
If you’ve gotten to this level, I assume you are a diligent worker. Keep at it. Complete assignments, return phone calls, reply to emails, be timely in all your tasks, and always request more work in your field. It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating: a reputation takes a lifetime to build and a second to destroy.
2. Become Indispensable
In this future economy, you need to be someone who the robots can’t replace. Do your work diligently, but also read journals, join professional organizations, and attend conferences, Then start advertising your expertise by teaching a course or writing a blog. If someone needs an expert in, say, elder pet law, you want that expert to be you.
3. Learn to Lead
As you continue to rise in your organization, ask yourself what it means to lead. Do you know how to manage people, engender respect, and translate vision into accomplishments? Take a leadership seminar. Read a management book. Learn from those who you admire. And most importantly, keep respect at the core of your every interaction.
4. Be More Than Your Title
Congratulations! You are now the Senior VP of Legal. It can mean anything or it can mean nothing at all. See, people won’t follow you because of your title. People will follow you because you are a leader who they trust and who gets the best work out of them. You want them to want to follow you even if your brand new title disappeared overnight.
5. Learn To Delegate
Maybe it’s because many of us Millennial lawyers started working right when the economy started tanking that we all took on as much work as possible. Or perhaps it’s a tendency of our generation. Regardless, one of the knocks on Millennials is that we don’t delegate work because we think we can do it faster, better, and more efficiently. If you’re lucky enough to have people reporting to you, then you should be smart enough to use them.
6. Incorporate Different Perspectives
Remember Dressgate? Blue and black dress. White and gold dress. The country was at war! Everyone had a different perspective on the exact same image. The same applies to the people who work with you. Use a team that can see the same issue multiple ways, that can bring diverse perspectives to the table. It will transform what you see, and inevitably, what you achieve.
7. Be Visible
Do people in your organization know who you are? You work in a 100-person legal department. Does the CEO know you exist? When assignments are given, promotions are decided, or, sadly, layoffs are contemplated, make sure that you are known (for good reasons) throughout your organization.
8. Keep Up with Technology
Here is an inevitable truth of life. There will always be someone younger and more tech-savvy than you. You think you’re hip using Instagram, the employee five years younger than you is using Snapchat. And those 12-year olds think that Snapchat is so last year. Music.ly is where it’s at. You may never be hip again, but at least you can know how to continually integrate new technology into your practice in order to stay ahead of the game.
9. Understand Your Organization
Find out how the various components of your firm or company work. Learn about marketing, PR, client development. Don’t be afraid to tell the people you report to that you want to be more involved in the business aspect of the company.
10. Take Initiative
Another complaint about Millennials is that we want to be in charge from Day 1. Well it’s Day 2081. It’s past time to take initiative. Be respectful of course. This isn’t a coup. But don’t just wait for it either. If you want to argue the motion that you’ve drafted, ask for it. If you want to do something other than court calls, ask for it. If you want more supervisory responsibility, ask for it. If you keep waiting for someone to hand it to you, it may be too late.
11. Find New Mentors
While your early career mentors remain crucial, you need to continue finding new mentors as you progress in your career. You should have multiple mentors from different areas of your life – peer, sounding board, sponsor, boss. As you grow in your career, ensure that your mentoring circle grows as well.
12. Update Your Resume
Your job may not have changed but your resume should. Continually keep track of your accomplishments at work. Highlight the areas where you have developed expertise. And drop off some of the older jobs that have little relevance to where you want to go.
13. Practice Your Elevator Pitch
Here’s an elevator conversation: “What do you do?” “I’m a lawyer.” “Oh, what kind of lawyer?” Do you have a 30-second response that can make this person, or their spouse, or child, or boss, want to hire you? Learn, refine and memorize your elevator pitch. Your next client, or employer, can come from anywhere, including the elevator.
14. Partners Can Be Your Friends
When I left my law firm four years ago, I didn’t tell the partners I worked with that I was considering changing career paths. I wish I had. I’ve kept in touch with many of the partners I worked with, and to a person, they would have been happy to have talked with me about where I wanted to go. And it’s not just altruism. If you’re going in-house or to the government, those partners want to stay in touch. If you leave on good terms then it’s more likely that you will send business their way, or the right contacts when they need them.
15. Address Your Financial Situation
You’re a lawyer so hopefully you’ve been fiscally conservative. But say you did buy that 40-foot yacht on credit, now might be a good time to finish paying that off. Check your student loans, mortgages, retirement plans, emergency savings, short and long-term investments, children’s college funds. Make sure you’re living within your means, plus savings. And please, don’t invest in anything you don’t understand. If “Bright Start” doesn’t make sense, then don’t invest in five different accounts for your three kids and two nieces.
16. Ask Your Roommate To Lunch
Have you checked LinkedIn lately? Your friends from law school are probably doing some very interesting things right now. Some are at law firms, others are in-house, some went to the government, and some may have even left the profession entirely. It’s certainly worth checking in with them. And remember the Golden Rule of Networking – don’t only talk to people when you want something from them. Build relationships before you need them.
17. Join a Volunteer Board
Here’s the reality. Not everyone works for organizations they believe in. If that’s you, then volunteer with an organization with a cause about which you feel passionate. Don’t have time? Then consider investing money not just in the stock market, but in an organization working to reshape the world.
18. Explore Your Creative Side
Code something. Write something. Draw something. Create something. We lawyers spend a great deal of time feeding our left brain that we forget that our right brain might want a bigger say in our daily lives
19. Re-Evaluate You
Be honest. Are you actually where you want to be? Would you rather be working somewhere else? Would you rather be doing anything else? Yes, there is always time to change your path in life, but that path gets progressively narrower as you get older. If you still don’t know what you want to do with your life (who does?), then keep trying new things, meeting new people, and seeking out new paths that may have been previously closed.
20. Build Your Legacy
You, rising Millennial attorney, are still in the beginning stages of your career. That means you have time to decide what legacy you want to leave behind. As you decide, remember this: the legal profession has long shaped American politics and justice. We are the protectors, enforcers, deliberators, and arbiters of justice. You belong to the generation that will next lead this profession and this country. Think of the legacy you were given, and consider the one you want to leave behind.
There you are. 20 tips for the rising Millennial attorney. Did we leave any out? Feel free to add yours to the comments below.