No matter how much success you experience in your legal career, inevitably at some point you will encounter a setback and make mistakes. Whether the setback is not passing the bar exam in your law firm's jurisdiction, missing a key argument in a brief, or blowing a litigation deadline, these mistakes don't have to define your legal career. A setback is the perfect opportunity to take a moment and reflect on how the setback occurred and what you can do to catapult your career forward. As I said in my previous article "Taking Control of Your Legal Career as a First-Year Associate," published April 5 in The Legal, failure precedes success and becoming a great lawyer is a marathon, not a sprint. By using the four steps listed below, young attorneys can turn common mistakes and setbacks into opportunities for growth and branding.
Reflect on What Caused the Mistake or Setback
To adequately address any mistake or setback, you should first own up to it. Then determine how the mistake or setback occurred. For example, if you missed a passing score on the bar exam by three points, maybe you struggled with a particular essay, a specific type of multiple choice question or a legal topic. If you missed a key argument in a brief, maybe your eyes and mind were too tired to catch this mistake because you had been staring at the same document for hours. Finally, if you missed a litigation deadline it could be time to reevaluate how you organize your schedule. Once you identify the cause of the mistake or setback, think about what you will do differently in the future when you encounter this same challenge again.
Lean on Your Mentors for Guidance
After you've identified the cause of the setback, talk with your mentor about your approach to addressing the mistake. Chances are he or she has faced a similar obstacle, knows someone who overcame it, or has coached someone through overcoming this obstacle. This makes your mentor the perfect sounding board. There is no reason you should have to struggle alone. Lean on your mentor for guidance. Your mentor can provide guidance on whether the method you developed to address what caused your mistake or setback is adequate. If your mentor concludes that the same mistake or setback could still potentially occur with your new method, work with your mentor to develop another method.
Take an Optimistic Approach
Taking an optimistic approach allows you to see the positive aspects of a difficult situation. When focusing on long-term goals, it is important not to get distracted or discouraged by mistakes or setbacks that will not dictate the ultimate outcome or trajectory of your career. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to see it and then reach it.
With the July bar exam less than one month away and pass rates consistently declining, a common setback many young lawyers will encounter is not passing the bar exam on their first try. While it may feel like the world is going to end when this happens, trust me—it won't. Although retaking any professional exam is painstaking, there are positive aspects for New Jersey and Pennsylvania Bar exam re-takers. For example, because New Jersey switched to the Uniform Bar Examination in February, New Jersey bar exam re-takers will now be eligible to waive immediately into New York once they have passed the New Jersey bar exam if they have the requisite MPRE score and pass the NYLE. Despite whether you actually intend to practice law in New York, obtaining a New York law license without having to sit for an additional bar exam or waiting five years to waive in is a blessing and a potential marketing tool. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania bar exam re-takers who ultimately pass do not enjoy the same jurisdictional portability that New Jersey re-takers experience. However, retaking the bar exam presents an additional opportunity for all re-takers to gain a deeper understanding of core legal subjects such as evidence and civil procedure, which you will continually grapple with throughout your career.
Brand Yourself by Perfecting Your New Method
After you've reflected on what caused your mistake or setback while leaning on your mentors for guidance and taking an optimistic approach; perfect your new method. Continually reapply your method when the situation that led you to develop the method arises. Keep in mind that becoming an expert in anything takes time. By perfecting your new method and developing good habits in your practice, you are also simultaneously branding yourself because you are seeking a higher level of knowledge in a specific task or subject matter. This will help you become the "go to" person for other attorneys, friends, co-workers, and potential clients who need assistance in your area of expertise.
In conclusion, mistakes and setbacks are inconvenient but inevitable in your path to success. People rarely talk openly about all of the mistakes they made on their path to success. The truth is mistakes will happen. Nonetheless, by using the four steps discussed in this article, you can turn common mistakes and setbacks into opportunities for growth and branding. •
Malcolm J. Ingram is an associate at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel. He focuses his practice on counseling management in all aspects of labor relations and employment law. He advises clients on state and federal employment laws, including discipline, termination, reductions-in-force, document retention, family and medical leave, OSHA compliance, reasonable accommodation under the ADA, NLRB compliance and wage-and-hour issues.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.
Reprinted with permission from the July 6, 2017 edition of THE LEGAL INTELLIGENCER © 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, email@example.com or visit www.almreprints.com. # 201-07-17-01