What is a successful lawyer?

By Matthew Hollings, President of the QLS Future Leaders Committee

Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio

Back when I first started as a graduate in a big law firm I thought I had nailed it. For a kid from Townsville, getting a job as grad with a large national firm in Brisbane was as good as it gets! After all, at the time, it fell right in the middle of a very definition of success for a budding lawyer. The hope was that a promotion to solicitor, associate, senior associate, and eventually partner would follow. Congratulations – you’ve succeeded as a lawyer.

The problem was that after a few years in private practice I started coming to the realisation that perhaps practice in a big law firm, or indeed the law, might not be for me. This is something that took me some time to grapple with. What I know now is that I had really bought into the stereotypical definition of a successful lawyer. To be thinking about a move a way from that definition was synonymous with failure. This was also compounded by this feeling that once you leave you can never come back. Nevertheless, thanks to some timely support from my family and some “non-lawyers” I made the decision to jump!

Now over 8 years on the other side of that decision, I have come to learn that my warped view of success was far from correct then, and even less so now. There are now a myriad of ways in which you might use your law degree or your legal experience that don’t meet that traditional definition of success. I thought it useful to give you a brief insight into some of those roles:

  • Legal Project Management: This role involves adapting project management tools and techniques within a legal context. There are some legal projects and tasks that require the coordination of various facets, and therefore warrant dedicated project managers who apply legal project principles to ensure the project runs smoothly and on time. These roles exist within some firms and through external consultancies.

  • Legal Technologist: This role involves anyone who works with technology designed to improve the practice or business of law. Ideally those applying the technology should have some insight into the problem it solves. Your experience as a lawyer could be instrumental in deploying and applying technology in this role.

  • Legal Technology Developer: Similar to a technologist, this is someone who builds and designs software and applications to improve the practice of law or particular legal tasks. Whilst not a requirement, any practical insight into the problem being solved would help a developer to build a better solution.

  • Legal Operations: This role can colloquially be defined as the framework that looks more at the business of the practice of law. These professionals enable legal departments to better service their clients by focusing on the business requirements necessary to facilitate the efficient and effective delivery of legal services.

  • Knowledge Manager: This role involves making legal knowledge within an organisation easy to find through appropriate creations, storage and searching processes. A good knowledge manager helps the relevant legal teams run smoothly, easily accessing critical past knowledge to provide great efficient and effective outcomes to clients on current matters.

  • Client Experience and Business Development: This role is my favourite (for obvious reasons). Essentially these roles relate to how legal teams might attract, retain and grow clients, and are responsible for ensuring that current and potential clients feel as though they are the centre of that legal team's world, from intake, through to service delivery and project completion.

Finally, it’s okay to take a step back and break from the law. Perhaps the law isn’t for you, or the experience you have had to date hasn’t been the best. Making this decision is 100% okay. And guess what, you can always come back later if you like. I guarantee you that there will continue to be growth in the roles you might take on within the legal industry. “Success” as a lawyer can come in many forms, some of which don’t even exist yet!