Which Way is Your Elevator Moving?

Assuming you are reasonably intelligent, success in law school is largely determined by effort. If you do the work, the grades will follow. In the real world, effort matters too; but once you are in practice, there are many other variables that affect your overall success. In the real world, showing up and doing a good job are no guarantees that you will advance.

In a law firm, your ability to originate work can have a big impact on your standing. You may be doing great legal work and providing great customer service. You may be putting in a tremendous effort to be a great lawyer; but that may not be enough in order to advance to partnership.

Furthermore, even if you are putting in a lot of effort to generate work, in the short run, your business development activities may not yield fruit. Put another way, if you have 10 business prospects, in all likelihood, 9 of them will fizzle. How you recover from that failure will affect your longterm success at generating work.

It is easy to get discouraged when a hot business lead goes nowhere; or worse, when one of your competitors wins the business and you know you would do a better job. When this happens, it is easy to step onto the “down elevator”. Your confidence is challenged and you unconsciously communicate this to your remaining prospects. In sharp contrast, when you “win business”, you step triumphantly onto the “up elevator”. You feel confident about being retained to handle a piece of complex litigation or an interesting business transaction. You project this confidence and this in turn raises your rate of success.

So what is the career advice? Only be successful? Of course not. But network like crazy on the heels of a success. Stay on the “up elevator” as long as you can.

In the face of “failure”, find a way to get off the down elevator. Here are some suggestions on how to reverse your momentum:

1. Do a great job on a client matter that you have on your plate. While this won’t necessarily give you more work, if the client is happy and praises your work, this will help remind you that you are a good lawyer.
2. Look to your personal life for successes. Vigorously pursue accomplishment in sports, music, volunteer work or child rearing.
3. Circle back to the prospective client who awarded the work elsewhere and let him or her know that you would still be very interested in being a resource.
4. Do something fun for yourself (go to the gym, see a movie, get a massage, go out to dinner with a friend.)

I could go on; but you get the idea.

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