What I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming an Attorney

Sigalle Barness | August 29, 2017

They say hindsight is 20/20. That’s why, in a recent Lawline article on Above the Law, we asked Lawline faculty what they wish they had known before becoming an attorney. The answers are truly insightful...We interviewed attorneys that have worked in BigLaw, started firms from the ground up, crusaded for animal rights, and even chosen law as a second career.  You can view the entire article here or view a summary of the answers below! 

  • “Incorporate Your Personality into Your Practice” - Cheryl Davis, Menaker & Herrmann LLP. Cheryl says she wish she'd understood that you can incorporate your personality into your practice. She advises not to spend time trying to be the image of what you think an attorney “should” be. Rather, she suggests using your intellect and legal knowledge in combination with your unique personality to interact with clients so they hear, understand, and feel like they have themselves been heard. 
  • “Understand the Practicalities of Running a Small Business” - Erica Dubno, Fahringer & Dubno, Herald Price Fahringer PLLC.  Erica says she wishes she knew more about the practicalities of running a small business. Working at big firms or in a corporate setting doesn't really set you up to know the minutia and economics of maintaining a business.  She suggests getting a grasp on this early on will help attorneys have "full control over your destiny" - regardless of the firm structure you are associated with.  

  • “George Jung Was Right - Stay in the Saddle” - Max Elliott, The Law Offices of Max Elliott, Ltd. Max wishes she knew early on about "rodeo riding" likening the activity to her initial experience with legal networking. She says she was extremely taken aback by the constant "ups" and "downs" of leads and professional relationships but that ultimately, she continued and was rewarded with great referrals. She advises to "stay in the saddle", stay strong, and good things will eventually come your way. 

  • “Align What You Want To Achieve With the Right Practice Area” - Maryjean Ellis, Law Office of Maryjean Ellis, LLC. As law was a second career for Maryjean (after earning a B.A. in psychology), she only knew she wanted to help people. She cast a wide net and landed in a corporation, where she quickly felt she was a square peg in a round hole, particularly with respect to her values and political views. Maryjean suggests really taking the time to explore law careers where the work and the clients truly inspire you by identifying how the practice aligns with the values you hold most dear. 

  • “Educate Yourself on Legal Marketing” - Simon Goldenberg, Law Office of Simon Goldenberg PLLC. Simon says that prior to becoming an attorney, he wishes he had a better understanding of the nuances of legal marketing. As it takes time to build a brand and earn a positive reputation, knowing how to get a head-start may prove critical to the survival of many attorneys.  

  • “Do Pro Bono and Public Interest Work Early On” - Elizabeth Hallinan, The Greenfield Project.  Elizabeth suggests that doing pro bono/low bono/public interest work early.  She said seeing how much opportunity and authority you are given when no clients are paying is extremely eye opening and is very important way to get a lawyer's career growing at an early stage. 

  • “You are a Business Partner with Your Client” - Kristina Launey, Seyfarth Shaw LLP.  Kristina stresses that ultimately, being well-rounded and practical are very important.  In many respects, you are a business partner with your client and treating your client as such is key to success. 

  • “Get a Mentor Early On” - Kathleen Scott, Norton Rose Fulbright. Kathleen says as someone who had no reference (familial or otherwise) to what it meant to become a lawyer made it harder for her to understand what to expect. She states that speaking with someone who can give practical advice on how to become a lawyer and what to think about with respect to career choices would have been most helpful. She advises to create a relationship sooner rather than later with someone who is dedicated to giving you the real scoop on everything from law school to starting a career. 

  • “Understand the Legal Industry Landscape” - Patricia Wershultz, Werschulz Patent Law, LLC.  Patricia states that not fully understanding the differences between firms, types of partners, and various expectations of associates depending on the firm structure prevented her from fully understanding what type of law firm would be a good match for her.  She recommends digging deep into the landscape to have a better idea of how to best match the right legal environment to her skills and interests. 


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About the Author

Written by Sigalle Barness

Sigalle champions and grows Lawline’s brand awareness through impactful stories that are authentic, meaningful, and thought provoking. She designs communications strategies that underscore the why and how behind Lawline's work. Sigalle is an avid lover of music, video games, blogging, asking questions and all things food. She is also fluent in Hebrew and enjoys writing fiction, traveling and scuba diving.


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