On Your Own: Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

Don't Throw Away Your Shot
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All of our legal careers begin with someone giving us a shot. A firm hires us. We get a clerkship. Or some person actually takes their hard-earned money from their pocket, and hands cash and a problem of importance over to a lawyer who’s never seen the inside of a courtroom.

There are shots and there are SHOTS. There are moments and opportunities that have the opportunity to launch or change the trajectory of careers. From the plaintiff ’s side at least, those are the types of cases that can impact millions of people, get news coverage, generate significant income, garner respect from your peers, and/or open the door for an entirely new area of practice. So how do we cash in on these moments?

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There are moments and opportunities that have the opportunity to launch or change the trajectory of careers.

First, invite them. Develop a substantive knowledge base, and market it. You can market to the outside world via blog posts, news articles, scholarly articles, CLEs … Maybe someone is giving you your first case, but you control how smart you sound on a subject. If you’re in a firm setting and really want to work with a prominent medical malpractice partner, go read through your State’s practice series on medical malpractice. Ask to look at some complaints and expert reports. Be proactive. Be smart.

Second, understand when they arrive. As a contingency fee lawyer, one could make analogies to fishing all day. Each contingency fee lawyer is pretty much looking for the biggest fish they can land on their boat. And if necessary, they call a friend with a bigger boat. For the large majority of cases we take, no matter how hard we work on them they’re not going to move the dial in our own lives. But you must have a sense of the game changers. Contingency lawyers often get a SHOT because a different lawyer, inside or outside their firm, failed to recognize the significance of a potential case. Have your antennae up. Be creative. Take calculated risks.

Finally, sacrifice. People should have balanced lives. There, I said it. But I maintain there are certain cases that are worth sacrificing most of your time for. The rest of your life can benefit from 2-5 years of extreme effort. Success in that big case can be the launching pad for your own law firm or could give you the financial comfort to build a more balanced practice into the future. You might also just feel really good about the people you helped and what you accomplished. If you’re already sacrificing and are not having any of those feelings or realizations, then it’s a good time to ask if you’ve positioned yourself to get your shot. Jeff Storms

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