November 22, 2021

An Open Letter to Law Students: Unsolicited Advice From a Seasoned Partner and Business Unit Leader

By: Amy Siegel Oran.

It is a pleasure for us to have future lawyers participate in Kelley Kronenberg‘s Summer Associate Program. It is invigoratingto see the energy and feel the excitement of the law students starting their legal careers.  It was a long time ago that I was in that position myself, but I remember it was a period of doubt and discovery.  The law students’ desire to learn, to absorb what we teach, and to be a part of a firm is a refreshing reminder of how much I love being a lawyer.  I embrace the opportunity to be a mentor and find myself offering unsolicited advice, hoping to help these young open minds envision their future and see what they want out of their legal careers.  Whether or not you participated in our 2021 Summer Associate Program, I am writing this letter, offering more unsolicited advice. 

Understand there are many paths to success and different definitions of success.

Within any successful law firm, you will find two types of lawyers: rainmakers and worker bees.  Too many rainmakers will sink a business just as quickly as an overabundance of worker bees.  Survival depends on the co-existence of these very different personalities, working hand-in-hand to serve the needs of our clients.  Unfortunately, too many people, and especially new lawyers, believe there is a stigma associated with being a worker bee; that could not be farther from the truth. The rainmaker must have the time to dedicate to the marketing, the schmoozing, and development of new client relationships.  He or she can only then provide top-notch legal work with a strong team behind them.  It is no different than some people wanting to make a career in litigation and some looking toward transactional.  Not wanting to put in the significant time, energy, and dedication to trying to do great work while also fostering new work, is not only okay, it is necessary.  Being a well-respected attorney who focuses on doing the day-to-day legal work, avoiding the spotlight and responsibility of marketing, is an equally successful career and for many, a far better fit.

Never close your mind to learning.

It may be a cliché, but that does not make it any less true – you learn something new every day.  If you’ve reached a point in your career where you know it all and feel you have nothing new to get out of it, perhaps you need to broaden the scope of what you do.  Our minds thrive on learning and using what we learn to grow, to be better lawyers, and better serve our clients’ needs. It is what keeps our jobs interesting.  In my field of workers’ compensation, where the law collides with medical facts in every case, I am constantly expanding my knowledge and understanding.  If I did not feel like there was more for me to learn and more I could accomplish based upon that ongoing education, I don’t think I would still love the practice of law as much as I do.  Embrace the concept of being a student of the law, even after you are no longer a law student.

Follow your heart, embrace your passion, and do not allow money to be the sole driver of career choices.

I don’t care how old you are, we are all too young to wake up every morning and dread going to work.  Find what you love to do.  Embrace what fits you, your interests, and your personality.  In a world where student loan debt is suffocating, scary, and standing over us like a beast we cannot tackle, we still cannot let money drive every decision.  If the area of law you love and that makes you happy pays less than some other practice that is not of interest to you, choose what will make you happy.  If you choose the work that you enjoy, you will inevitably do better, advance more quickly, and perhaps even out that salary disparity. 

Set clear, realistic, attainable goals, to which you must hold yourself accountable.

Only you know what you want to accomplish, the path you need to take to get there, how long it will reasonably take.  Career advancement does not just happen, you have to make it happen.  Drawing on some of my points above, figure out what is most important to you.  Do you want to be a rainmaker?  Prepare a business plan of the steps you must take to start opening your own files and put deadlines in place for each step.  No one else can make you stick to your timeline; you are the writer of your own story.  If your goal is to learn more about a subspecialty within your area of practice, identify the additional education needed, plan how to gain that necessary training, and by what date you believe you can begin to market yourself as a specialist in your field. 

Do not strive for mediocrity and do not allow yourself to be average.

There are few phrases that get under my skin as much as “it’s good enough.”  What does that mean?  Does it mean we know we can do better, maybe recognize that we should do better, and acknowledge we just don’t care about doing better?  Hold yourself to a higher standard than you do others, recognize that of which you are capable, and do not sell yourself short.  If you want to impress an employer, if you want to show you are the best candidate for a job, or that you are the right associate to be nominated for partnership, understand that “good enough” may not be good enough.  The easiest example I can offer is the dreaded billable hour.  If your partner sets a goal of 200 billable hours, do you turn in 200 and feel that you’ve done enough, or do you want to be the associate who manages to eke out 205 and show that you strive for greater than mediocrity?  You can build a successful career doing what is “good enough,” plenty of people do; but, is that really good enough for you?  Or, do you want to build an above-average career and a future of excellence that will set you apart from all those who met expectations, but perhaps never managed to exceed them?

Whatever your future holds, the keys to success are in your hand.  Decide where you want to go, chart your path, keep an open mind, trust your instincts, and embrace all your future career has to offer.  You are capable of greatness. Believe in yourself as much as we believe in you. 

Click here to learn more about our Summer Associate program.

Click here to read our 2021 Summer Associate blog.

Amy Siegel Oran is a Partner and Business Unit Leader at Kelley Kronenberg, focusing her practice on Workers’ Compensation

Contact Amy Siegel Oran at:
Phone: (800) 718-9865

DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a courtesy and is intended for the general information of the matters discussed above and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Neither Kelley Kronenberg, nor its individual attorneys or staff, are responsible for errors, omissions and/or typographical errors – always seek competent legal counsel.