Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 22, November 2002

Issue 22, November 2002

  • Become the "Go-To" Lawyer

Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More™

 Issue # 22

All previous issues of "Beyond the Billable Hour"™are archived at
ARTICLE SUMMARY: The power to negotiate a successful balanced hours schedule with full opportunity for advancement increases when you demonstrate your value to your firm or organization. A seven-step plan for becoming the "go-to" lawyer in your area of expertise is described.
Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor
Ellen is the founder of™ Personal and Career Coaching for Lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life 

Most attorneys -- especially women -- live impossibly busy lives.  Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best practice area or work setting, and making career transitions can be a daunting task, even for the most gifted and accomplished lawyer.
Just as every person deserves the best possible legal counsel, every attorney deserves professional, dedicated support in accomplishing her most important goals. You know how hard you've worked to get where you are -- you serve others, both personally and professionally. You've earned the right to both career success and a fulfilling life.
This newsletter is intended to help you create a satisfying life -- within, or outside of -- legal practice.

                  Become the "Go-To" Lawyer
    "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
                       -- Brian Tracy
It's common knowledge that for most women lawyers, success is hard won.  Typically, women face double standards: if they're assertive, they're labeled as overaggressive; if they demure, they're seen as "not tough enough". Research consistently documents that women's work products are devalued in relation to those of their male counterparts due to unconscious bias.  In most legal workplaces, the "ideal worker" is still someone who can devote unlimited and uninterrupted time to his or her career (1). Since childbirth requires a work interruption, and since most women still have primary care-taking responsibilities at home, the reality of women's bodies and lives is incompatible with  this "ideal."
Although reduced hours is offered as an option at many legal workplaces, most women fear that exercising this option will destroy their careers.  Concerns about being seen as less committed, receiving poor quality assignments, and losing opportunities for advancement often lead talented women attorneys to conclude that they have no future at their firms, or even in the profession.
Many women lawyers are under the impression that only "superstars" can achieve career success while working reduced hours. Often firms will tout their "superstars" as evidence of an effective work-life balance policy.  To most women attorneys, these "superstars" appear to be impossible to emulate.  Their success seems to be due to some kind of unattainable "magic."  The women lawyers I coach frequently assume that the "superstars" possess incomparable paper credentials, incredible genius, remarkable persuasive power, or other characteristics they believe they can never possess.
The fact is that any committed attorney has the potential to be a "superstar."  It does not require extraordinary brilliance or a particular kind of personality.  Rather, success requires certain behaviors which demonstrate the attorney's value to her organization.  In order to achieve the success you desire, you must first accept that you cannot depend upon the traditional management structure to put you on the path to achievement.
Instead, you'll need to take control of your career yourself.  Essentially, this means understanding your organization's goals and bottom line and demonstrating that you can contribute to the success of your workplace.
Taking responsibility for your career success means looking for opportunities to demonstrate your competence and value - both to your employer and your clients.
Especially if you want to work a balanced hours schedule, you need to understand that retention, per se, is not necessarily a priority in most firms, especially in today's slow economy.  However, retention of TALENT is.
In order to make the business case for balanced hours, you'll need to demonstrate that you are the kind of lawyer your firm or organization would want to retain - that to lose you would be costly.
One of the most effective ways to do this is to become the "go-to" lawyer in your area of practice.  You want to be seen as the attorney who has the answers, who is on top of the latest information, who is eager to help co-workers and clients, who cares about the success of the organization and its clients and will go above and beyond in order to promote this success.
Here are seven steps to becoming the "go-to" lawyer:
1. Define An Area of Expertise
Ask yourself what kind of work you most enjoy.  What issues hold your attention?  What gives you the greatest sense of pride and accomplishment? 
Also consider what kind of expertise would meet the needs of your workplace.
The area of expertise you choose should be something that truly interests you and is also of value to your market or organization.
Remember that applied knowledge is power - and you're trying to empower yourself to succeed in your chosen career without compromising the non-work commitments you value.  The more knowledge you have relative to the needs of your organization and clients, the more able you will be to enable them to achieve their own goals.  This will make you too valuable to lose.
Also keep in mind that developing an area of expertise doesn't mean you need to know everything.  Select a defined issue that grabs your attention and learn everything you can about it.  Keep abreast of the latest information.  This will make you the "in-house" expert.
2. Take Initiative in Continuous Learning
Establishing and maintaining expertise requires making a commitment to learning.  When you're clear about your professional goals, you can identify the knowledge and skills you need to acquire in order to develop and maintain your status as expert.
Clarify what you need to learn and make a plan to acquire the knowledge.  You can do this through reading, attending continuing education programs, and seeking out mentors. Read the trade publications your clients read and attend trade association meetings held by your target market.  Listening to their presentations will keep you informed about their most current needs and concerns.
3. Develop a Knowledge Network
Build and maintain a network of relationships with people who are willing to share knowledge for mutual benefit.  No matter how expert you become, there's always new knowledge developing.  Proactively develop dependable pathways to knowledge. Maintaining this kind of network allows you to volunteer to help even when you know your own personal knowledge is incomplete. You can turn to network members to close your knowledge gaps.  In this way, you'll be responsive to requests for assistance and learn in the process.
Don't forget that these are mutual, reciprocal relationships.  Nurture them.
4. Share Your Expertise
Your knowledge is only useful if others identify you as knowledgeable. It's up to you to create your own reputation. Find subtle ways to make others aware of your expertise.
Consider teaching a class on the subject at a nearby law school.  Course preparation is a great way to become an expert.  Teaching will build your confidence to present the material in other formats.
Offering to share information you've learned with interested colleagues in an informal setting will increase awareness of your expertise. 
Be sure to first touch base with colleagues who have similar areas of expertise to avoid turf battles. Invite them to contribute at the meeting, recognize their expertise, and make clear you are interested in working together, rather than competing.
Having a data base organized according to the information needs of clients and colleagues is a powerful tool for demonstrating your expertise. You can pass along tips on a "need-to-know" basis. In-depth articles on topics of interest will establish you as a generous supplier of expert information.
Depending upon your talents and preferences, you can:
 * Publish Articles
 * Present Seminars
 * Speak at Conferences
Keep the following in mind: 
* Articles and presentations showcase your expertise.
* Sponsorship by a trade organization is an endorsement of your qualifications.
* Target your audience --
  • If your expertise would be most helpful to other attorneys, write for bar publications.
  • To reach your target market directly, write for their trade publications.
  • Speak in a language your audience will understand.
  • Tailor your remarks to the information needs of your audience.  Many lawyers lose "beauty contests" by focusing on what they want to say instead of what clients want to hear.
  • Don't be afraid to give away too much information. Clients will still need your counsel and representation.
  • Don't tell people that you know something - demonstrate it.
5. Give of Yourself Without Expectations of Return
Understand the needs of your clients as well as your organization - know what each will define as "help."
Share your knowledge simply to help others succeed. Take the initiative to offer solutions to problems. Be proactive - take action when you see something that needs to be done.
Offer a piece of news or information to someone you think might find it useful. 
Sit on boards; use your expertise to serve your community.
Remember, you're developing a reputation.  Giving generously will come back to you in ways you can't anticipate or engineer.
Be Savvy About Your Organization
Plot the most direct essential route from where you are now to your goals and align them with the mission of your organization.
Take the initiative to seek out assignments that will advance you toward your own goals and demonstrate your value and competence to your organization.
If you're going to take the initiative in seeking good assignments and offering solutions to problems, you'll need to have a clear understanding of what constitutes "initiative" in your workplace.  What is seen as "doing your job" vs. going above and beyond?
Keep in mind that your manager is your internal client. Manage your relationship with your superiors as you do with your clients. Understand their goals, work to give them peace of mind, and shape their expectations.
Your goal is to "superplease" both your internal and external clients without compromising your life or your integrity.
7. Strive for Excellence
Always do excellent work.  Regardless of your feelings about your firm or organization at any moment in time, remember your professionalism.
Keep in mind the difference between excellence and perfection. If you're human, you'll make mistakes. Excellence means doing your best, striving for the highest quality of which you are capable, and seeking needed information and assistance to make the work product the best you can.
It's difficult to strive for excellence unless you're doing what you love.  True success and happiness is easiest to achieve when your commit yourself whole-heartedly to doing what you most love to do.
Being technically excellent is no longer enough to ensure your success in your firm or organization. You need to demonstrate your value.  Establishing a reputation for having expertise in an area, and a willingness to share your knowledge and experience will make your value evident.
When you're viewed as the attorney whose counsel clients seek when they have a question or a problem, you'll be tough to replace.  Becoming the "go-to" lawyer will empower you to negotiate for what you want - balanced hours, advancement opportunities, equity in compensation and bonuses.
1. Williams, Joan (2000). "Unbending gender:  Why family and work conflict and what to do about it." New York: Oxford University Press.
BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach™. is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.
Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.
Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.  She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the MentorCoach Program™.
NOTE:  BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.
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