The Master Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Michigan, comprised of attorneys who have been in practice 30 or more years or are 60 and older, surveyed its 19,000-plus members last spring. Experienced lawyers were asked about words of wisdom they would share with a new lawyer. Respondents commented on the business and practice of law, relationships with clients, networking, and enjoying the journey.
Many suggestions, while not specifically using the word “marketing,” contained advice on building a practice over time. Among the comments:
- Keep your focus on client service.
- Effectively representing business clients requires you to know almost as much about their business as they do.
- Honesty, ethics, and civility are essential for building your client base and maintaining your love for the practice of law.
- Chose a specialty well and make yourself an expert in that area of the law.
Many stressed the importance of networking for professional growth and referrals such as:
- Maintaining regular contact with and getting information from the State Bar of Michigan.
- Join young lawyer’s groups to meet others your own age—they will follow you throughout your career.
- Networking and being active in bar activities are as important to your practice as is staying current in your practice areas.
Numerous respondents commented on the importance of establishing and guarding your reputation, which, from a marketer’s view, is part of your brand:
- Reread the Lawyer’s Oath from time to time and take it to heart.
- Your reputation is your most important asset.
- It is a profession, not a business. The client’s needs do not supersede a lawyer’s duty to ethical standards and professional responsibility.
- Guard your integrity—your reputation cannot recover from a lapse.
Marketing was mentioned. “Learn to market yourself,” wrote one lawyer. “Develop a client base that perpetuates itself. Once you know your process and services, decide how you will market yourself and your practice.”
Several responses mentioned the importance of life outside the law:
- Taking care of your physical and mental health and balancing your family life are essential.
- “Beloved husband and father” is a better epitaph than “He worked 70 hours a week and became a major partner in his firm.”
- It’s a long journey; don’t rush, and take time for yourself and your family.
Finally, a few commented on how to enjoy years of practice. “Maintain a sense of humor.” And, “Relax. You will make mistakes. They’re not fatal.”
The words of wisdom have been compiled into a booklet, which will be available at the SBM NEXT Conference later this month. Find a copy and be entertained and enlightened by the thoughts of our most experienced attorneys.
After years practicing law, Roberta Gubbins served as editor of the Ingham County Legal News. Since leaving the paper, she provides writing services to lawyers ghostwriting content for websites, blogs, and articles. She is editor of The Mentor, the SBM Master Lawyers Section newsletter.
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