Successful lawyers tend to work long hours and are focused and passionate about what they do. But in the effort to excel, made more intense by the pressure of economics, trying too much to succeed can cause problems for lawyers. Those who don't have the right perspective can see their striving for success become counterproductive.
Certainly I have my own experience with such feelings. For many years, I thought "success" was how much money one earned each year. As a practicing lawyer handling divorces, I wondered how my clients could earn more than I, be perceived as "successful," yet have a net worth less than mine. Then, as a coach and consultant to lawyers and law firms, I thought that lawyers in large firms, especially equity partners, were more "successful" than I who, as a sole practitioner, both earned less than they and didn't have the power of a large organization to help achieve my goals. Eventually I got beyond these feelings by recognizing and accepting the success that I had built in my life and career, success that met my own definitions.
Lawyers work hard; the thought of 2,500 or more billable hours proves that. But the billable hour is only a method of accounting; it is not the reason for working long hours. Our success motivation comes from loving what we do, from wanting to help people and from needing to take care of our families and ourselves. So, in this context, how can an associate become a successful lawyer? The answer lies, not in earning more money or racking up more billable hours, but in moving your professional life down as many of these paths as possible.
A final thought is implicit in traveling each path. Treat everyone - clients, colleagues and contacts alike - with the same civility and respect you wish to receive. The truly successful person never has to worry about the comments made by others when out of earshot.
For more insight on this topic, please go to The LawBiz Forum and see the information on: "What Do Clients Want". Also, see the video of Ed Poll's discussion on "Business Competency for Lawyers". More of Ed Poll's practical insights for new attorneys can be found at: www.lawbiz.com and www.lawbizblog.com.