The one thing every law student and legal professional needs

The other day I found myself giving advice to a prospective law student. She’d been accepted to a number of different schools and was trying to decide among a few quality options. 

I gave this prospective law student the same advice I’ve given a few others. The advice is to make one thing very clear before entering law school and then to hold firm to that thing throughout law school. And while this thing has little to do with a given law school, it can ultimately drive the choice of law school. It can move a law school experience from maddening to tolerable, and even beneficial, and it can help dramatically come graduation.

Clarity on this one thing can help after law school too. It’s something that can shape your career, help you overcome obstacles and setbacks, help you to be more creative, and help you feel more fulfilled in your work, and even help you make more money.

What’s this thing? A purpose.

So what’s “a purpose?” It’s a reason. A driving factor or force. An aim. A goal.

What does it look like? It looks different for every person and situation but it could be a desire to work with a given population or to solve a particular kind of problem. It can be a goal to hone a certain skill within yourself or to right a social or cultural wrong. It doesn’t even need to be very specific, particularly if it’s not something you’ve thought about in great detail before.

I’ve seen law students be with a purpose. I’ve seen one hustle their way to get to every legal tech conference and raise money for and run a legal tech conference at their respective law school. I met another who found a friendly faculty member that agreed to let them get law school credit for computer science courses. Still another one took the bold step of pitching (and having accepted) a panel for ABA TechShow with a number or lawyers they respected. Finally, there’s the law graduate who sat in front of me a few days back and demonstrated an impressive mobile app with huge potential that was built while they scrimped, saved, and hustled their way through law school.   

It doesn’t really matter exactly how specific you are about your purpose when you go to law school, the key is that you have something, that it’s important to you, and most importantly that when the going gets tough and you’re pushed to stray from that purpose – because law school will definitely do that – you hold firm. As much as law school is an academic exercise, it’s also a socialization exercise. Keeping your purpose will help you get where you ultimately want to go.

Having a purpose helps beyond law school too. Being intentional about one’s career will insure that you don’t get trapped in a legal job you hate or that doesn’t suit you. For example, Greg McLawsen has worked really hard to build a practice around his lifestyle. Greg’s on a mission to be a lawyer, nomad, family man, mountaineer, and legal tech rockstar. Greg frequently manages his firm remotely as he travels to Asia for extended periods or, even, goes to live in Vancouver, BC for the summer. He lives life the way he’s designed it because he’s worked hard to stay true to his purpose.

A purpose can also help you navigate the economic realities of modern law practice. The world is constantly shifting and businesses and markets can rise and fall overnight. Clarity about the audience you want to serve and how you want to serve them – your purpose – can help with both the financial and emotional roller-coaster of the modern economy. Brooke Moore is a great example. The founder of MyVirtualLawyer Brooke is bringing virtual unbundled legal services to the masses. She’s committed to helping people who might not have the means to to engage with the legal system through her impressive unbundled, virtual law firm in Arkansas. She’s been doing this for years and if my recent conversations are any indication, she’s just getting started.

A purpose can be more straightforward, and more economically directed too. Florida bankruptcy attorney Chad Van Horn. He told me his purpose is to build the “perfect law firm.” I’m also a big fan of Kelly Rickert. Kelly’s firm’s URL is so she’s got her purpose nailed. Seriously, though, Kelly has a thriving practice in bustling Los Angeles yet she also makes time for semi-regular blog writing and she maintains an active and honest Facebook business presence that, as a bonus, brings in a fair number of clients.

It used to be that “smart” was enough to get you through law school and into a lifetime of cozy legal employment. No longer. Everything changes quickly today and life’s too short not to build something meaningful and awesome. Finding and holding to your purpose is the first step.

Next week I’ll talk about how to try and figure out your purpose.


Have you thought about your purpose? Do you want help figuring it out? I’m working in small group career design jam sessions with legal professionals and purpose is a central theme. Here are the details. I’m at capacity now but sign up here for the waitlist and I’ll share with you what we’re learning in these groups including tips how to find and apply a purpose in your career.