Three Essential Career Tips for the 21st Century Lawyer

So, job security in legal is dead and that every lawyer today is effectively self-employed.  Lawyers guiltlessly move from job to job, role to role, growing in responsibility and income as quickly as they can while employers are also free to pivot, invest and de-invest, grow and shrink, risk and fail.  

But freedom comes at a cost – particularly for the employed. While full-time employment may feel secure, many lawyers are only a few business pivots away from facing the opportunity to, yet again, “explore one’s options.” In this the golden age of entrepreneurship still others are eager to bring their own ideas to life and test them in the world. Whatever camp you fall into, here are three tips for the age of legal self-employment:

  1. Build a portfolio. Traditionally something reserved for artistic types, for legal professionals, a “portfolio” is a sampling of your work and a demonstration of their legal acumen and interests. While it’s true that there’s much that a lawyer can’t divulge about working with a given client or on a given matter, there’s much that they can share. One example of this trial diaries of Seattle attorney Karen Koehler. Her blog speaks volumes about her work as a lawyer and of Karen as a person. A portfolio doesn’t have to be about a lawyer’s cases, however. It can include blog posts reflecting the lawyer’s opinions on other cases in which she or he is not involved, pending legislation, legal industry news, anything. A blog or website is an ideal place to keep material like this and with the low cost of establishing either of those, it’s a no-brainer that every lawyer should have one. Inspired by the source code repository GitHub and the increasingly powerful brief analyzing tools that companies like LexMachina, Judicata, ROSS Intelligence, Casetext and others are creating, when are we going to see a legal document repository, based off of the open source “forking” model with document analysis built in? This seems like an idea that’s been lingering far too long. Nonetheless, as soon as we have it lawyers will be able to post their documents and briefs and have them subject to both human and robotic scrutiny in order to improve their quality and allow other lawyers to show off their skills at adoption and adaptation. Then a lawyer won’t need a blog or a website. They can just point would-be employers to examples of their peer and robot-reviewed work on “Lawyer GitHub.”
  2. Define a target market and figure out how to talk to them. What kind of lawyer do you want to be? What kind of people do you want to be like or surround yourself with? Do you want to work with small businesses, individual consumers, larger businesses, entrepreneurs, inventors, mommy bloggers, construction workers, the affluent, the not-so affluent? Identifying your target audience is a key first step in the age of legal self-employment. Successful lawyers in the world of self-employment will build an audience of prospective clients, hone in on their target market, and then listen to and leverage that audience in order to better understand what their audience wants and how the lawyer can serve them. Examples of this abound outside of legal (some of my favorites are Moz, Rainmaker Digital, Tim Ferriss, and Content Marketing Institute) but there are great examples of this in legal too. The most obvious examples of this in legal are niche law practices that have used the internet to build a very specific but very valuable audience. I hesitate to be even that specific because I’m sure a creative legal professional can come up with an even more compelling business opportunity once they’ve built an audience.
  3. Embrace the freedom aka Resilience. The fear of losing your job or the insecurity that comes from the limited predictability of a self-employment landscape is scary but it can also be freeing.  While the landscape of legal-self employment means you can’t do the same exact thing for your whole career, it also means you have the opportunity to try new things either as a completely new direction or to pick up new things as you try to innovate and evolve a direction that may soon run its course. It could be something as radical and popular as learning to code, picking up design, or embracing data science, or it could be something more traditional like understanding accounting better, learning more about digital marketing, improving your public speaking or learning how to listen more effectively. Embracing the freedom of the self-employment landscape (also known more popularly today as “resilience”) will prepare lawyers to identify and capitalize on the myriad opportunities available in the constantly evolving self-employment landscape.



The landscape of legal self-employment is a mixed blessing – it’s liberating and also frightening. But it’s not going away any time soon. The first step is acknowledging the reality of the present landscape (that was last week’s post). This post is the next step: what to do about it.

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