Time to Double Down on your Strengths as a Lawyer

So many lawyers are out there trying to be everything to everyone – and I just don’t get it.

Here’s a standard legal profile that lawyers use:

Bob acts for small, medium and large corporations, government small countries.  He is an expert in franchising, litigation, contracts, conveyancing, tax, personal injuries and construction law.

Sorry Bob – you’re full of garbage, as is the person who wrote your profile for you.

You Have to Know What You’re Good At

Self-awareness among lawyers is such an important issue.  Here’s the truth, just in case nobody told you when you were little: you’re not good at everything.

Start looking in the mirror and realising where your strengths lie and where they don’t.

Here’s an example from just the last week.  I’m about to release my next book, called In Practice – Moving Beyond Law School Theory.

Obviously it’s going to be awesome.

But you know what wouldn’t be awesome?  It wouldn’t be awesome if I did my own cover design.  I’m just not that good at it.  Sure I could throw a stock image into a book cover and lob it into the internet.  But that’s not my strength.  Instead I went to the experts, and started reviewing designs by people who actually have a clue what they are doing.  As a result, instead of one half baked idea from my own brain I get to choose from dozens of designs like these:

How to Find your Strengths?

Perhaps you don’t have a good idea of where your strengths are?  There’s plenty of ways to find out, but the cheapest and easiest is to find someone you trust and have a real conversation with them.  Give them permission to tell you where you are strong and where you are not. Don’t respond – just listen.

Another way is to do the “Strengths Finder” test from Gallup, which is a great assessment of your aptitudes and strengths.  You might be surprised what you find out about yourself here.  My top 5 traits are apparently (using their language, not mine):

  • Strategic (I plan stuff)
  • Achiever (I do stuff)
  • Arranger (I bring stuff together)
  • Learner (I learn stuff)
  • Responsibility (I feel a sense of duty… about stuff).

Obviously these come with more explanations and elaborations, but they are inherently a good guide to help you develop a bit more self-awareness if that’s something you’re interested in doing a bit of soul searching about.

So What are Your Strengths?

It helps to say them out aloud – what are YOUR strengths?

On the flip side, what areas should you stay away from?

  • Brilliant article, as always, Chris.

    My two cents: know your strengths and don’t be afraid to learn more about your weaknesses. That can be incredibly insightful and you may have the opportunity to turn one of your weakenesses into a stength. Keep an open mind.
    Also, at uni, it’s impossible to know (in my earnest opinion) where you will end up and what you will end up practising. You may find a passion for something you once thought as a weakness and develop it into so much more. At the risk of sounding a bit clichè; you’re in charge of your destiny.

    To quote those infamous words; Happy Lawyering 😉

    • thanks Michele! totally agree about not always knowing – sometimes your strengths are not where you think they are. That’s where a nice dose of self-awareness comes in 🙂

  • There is a bit more nuance to this.
    I definitely agree that you should not try to be an “expert” at everything or claim to be. Anyone who claims to be an expert at more than perhaps one or two areas of law is full of BS and does not understand the term. But, you can claim to have good general experience or knowledge across a large range of areas, and indeed that is the strength of many lawyers rather than being just a specialist – particularly those in-house or in the more generalist fields such as litigation & projects. The trick is knowing your limitations, and often its just knowing enough to know you need a specialist.

    • Gidday Tom – I guess I half agree. Certainly there is room for a generalist, but I think that the available marketing position for such a person is ultimately limited. Certainly a health dose of “saying no” is a good idea for anyone, irrespective of how niched they are.

  • I might also weigh-in on the ‘expert’ vs ‘specialist’ title too. I spoken to the Law Society about this very topic and they are of the very strict view that you cannot allude to being a ‘specialist’ unless you are an Accredited Specialist. Further to that, you are generally not to use the word ‘expert’ unless you can definitively evidence your expertise with post-graduate qualifications or hefty experience in that area.
    Moral of the story on that topic, for me, is that you should always check with your local law society regarding any regulations or views when purporting to use those kinds of words. It could have ramifications if someone took issue with it. I don’t know how much it’s ‘enforced’ but I would still use these words with caution. By all means, sell yourself…but don’t misrepresent yourself.
    And yes! Self-awareness is absolutely essential.

    • While I’m always in favour of NOT getting tagged by the law society, I think that they’re a bit precious about the whole “specialist” thing. At the end of the day, “specialist” is just a word, and while we shouldn’t misrepresent ourselves as being something we’re not, people specialised before the society started their accredited specialist program, and people will do so after the program dies. Their claim to basically own the word is misconceived.

  • Chris, I’ve been enjoying reading your commentary. It’s refreshing to see someone expressing concepts and tips in such a clear and direct way and I’m looking forward to your book.
    On the topic of specialisation, I agree lawyers must specialise if they are to succeed. There are great specialists in many areas who can readily demonstrate their knowledge in their area – just look at any of the recognised specialists in medium and large firms. Large corporates, government and sophisticated clients know how to find a good specialist. But that’s not the case for the public at large. That’s where law society accreditation can help. Most specialists who go through the accreditation process are from smaller t firms. My firm is one of them – we have 8 accredited specialists across different areas and they genuinely specialise in their areas. I have been on a law society accreditation committee in my area for quite a while and I know from my experience the law society encourages specialists to apply for accreditation, not to own the brand, but to provide lawyers with independent recognition of their skill. For the public, it means these lawyers have been assessed against an independent minimum standard – it’s not just a claim on the lawyers website. Obtaining accredited requires lawyers to have a minimum number of years practising in their specialty, and undertake a reasonably complex assessment program to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Accreditation gives inexperienced clients comfort that the lawyer they’re dealing with knows what they’re doing. For lawyers, it provide a chance to test their knowledge and skills in their area and find gaps where they need to improve. True, you don’t need accreditation to be a specialist, but then if you’re that good why not get the recognition?

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