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It’s no shame… discussing success for lawyers

For lawyers, discussing success can be awkward and often becomes a stumbling block in one’s career development. Should I humble-brag, outright boast, or use some combination of both? In true lawyer fashion, it depends.

The answer depends on what your priorities are. Are you seeking to retain existing clients, persuade prospective clients to use your services, advance your career within your current firm, or seek new career opportunities? Although how one shares their successes varies according to priorities, there are universal concepts one should employ when discussing successes. Here are four concepts one should use to structure their discussions surrounding their success: tact; authenticity; context; and confidence.

First, it is critical to recall that lawyers are problem-solving advocates entrusted with their clients’ affairs. When discussing success, we must acknowledge that the only reason we can discuss our success is that our client was facing an unpleasant and challenging situation. For example, in 2021, many clients have faced daunting COVID-related problems, which resulted in law firms earning record profits.

The juxtaposition places law firms in an awkward position when discussing success from 2021, but it is a position that must be embraced and addressed delicately. One approach might be that law firms earned records profits during such a challenging time because they were with their clients through every uncertain, confusing, and difficult step of the journey. In fact, law firms should consider framing record profits as the result of their commitment to providing exceptional services despite facing their own operational challenges. Although the discussion must be tactful, the way that the discussion happens must also be personalized. 

Personalization equals authenticity. Discussing one’s successes is an aspect of marketing, but most lawyers have trouble marketing themselves. Being unauthentic only further complicates a lawyer’s marketing challenges. One critical part of being authentic while discussing one’s success is highlighting the challenges faced while achieving those successes. As any lawyer understands, success looks different for each client, and achieving success is rarely a straight path. Sharing the challenges faced while on the path towards success will encourage others to engage in the discussion. Facing adversity is a common theme throughout the legal profession, and it communicates genuine authenticity while discussing recent success. 

Transitioning away from broad concepts, one must understand the context in which they discuss their success. The context stems directly from the objectives one seeks to accomplish by sharing their success. Meaning that one must know who their audience is and how they prefer to receive information. To advance one’s career within their current law firm or company requires speaking with the CEO, Founder, President, or Managing Partner.

As expected, high-level executives are extremely busy, and a lawyer may do best by discussing their success in a concise, short, and objective manner. Think 1-2 minute elevator speech between meetings, an inter-office note about the outcome on a recent project, or a 3-4 bullet point email (contrast with more time-intensive prospective client coffee or lunch meetings discussing problem-solving abilities that highlight the prospective client’s industry-specific language or metrics).

Lastly, regardless of the audience and objectives surrounding the discussion of success, it must be done with confidence. Should the discussion happen in person then body posture, eye contact, and active listening are important considerations. If the discussion happens through written materials, then grammar, punctuation, active voice, and keeping it simple are critical aspects. Clients and law firm managing partners alike will have concerns about dealing with a lawyer who does not seem confident (as they should). Communicating one’s inner confidence is an intangible skill, but one that can be improved through detailed preparation and diligent practice. Some tips include being prepared for questions about the success stories you choose to share with others; and when dealing with unfamiliar questions or legal areas, saying you are unsure right now, but can research and follow up with answers. Communicating one’s inner confidence does not mean having an answer to every question, but also knowing one’s boundaries and how to provide client-specific solutions. 

In short, there is no one size fits all method of how to discuss success as a lawyer. A more beneficial approach is to understand that there are universal concepts one can use as a model, and then enhance the model with the specific context applicable to one’s objectives. We must remember that lawyers often help vulnerable clients through some of their worst, and most challenging, problems. Discussing our success cannot be done at the sacrifice of our clients, and we must present our successes as tactful solutions that were not only our successes but also our clients. And in sharing those successes, one must do so in a genuine way that is uniquely tailored to their objectives to maximize the benefits of discussing one’s successes. A lawyer’s ability to discuss their success is a critical component of developing their professional careers, and a lawyer must personally believe in the value of their successes before others will do the same.

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