Be a Choosy Lawyer

Be a Choosy Lawyer

Jim Vickaryous

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” These profound words from Abraham Lincoln resonate deeply with the legal profession, emphasizing the importance of making intentional choices and considering long-term aspirations. Being a choosy lawyer is not merely a luxury, it is a necessity. Every choice we make, from selecting our friends and associates to choosing our law firm and practice area, can either elevate us to new heights or jeopardize our professional growth. Let’s delve into the significance of being a choosy lawyer and how it can shape our practice, success, and happiness.

If we look honestly at ourselves and our life paths, we are the sum of our choices up to today. We have all made thousands of choices over our lives, some great, some we regret, many that we have forgotten about until someone reminds us. Our character, for better or worse, is a testament to these choices. In reflecting on past choices, we need to go easy on ourselves. The past is immutable, and our agency lies solely in the present. Dwelling on bygone choices only depletes the energy needed to confront today’s difficult decisions. Given this, there exists no better time to make a resounding, positive choice than right now.

One of the fundamental aspects of being a choosy lawyer lies in the art of making effective legal arguments. In the courtroom, attorneys are often faced with a multitude of potential points to raise. However, a skillful lawyer knows that not every point carries equal weight or impact. By carefully selecting the strongest and most compelling arguments, a lawyer can significantly increase their chances of persuading judges, juries, or opposing counsel. Similar to Lincoln’s quote, a choosy lawyer exercises discipline by resisting the temptation to present every conceivable point and instead focuses on what is most crucial to achieve their desired outcome. After all, throwing people a laundry list is not being choosy, it makes them angry that they have to make a choice for you.

Choosing great relationships is one of the most important choices in being a lawyer. Selecting the right friends, colleagues, and partners is vital as they directly influence our reputation, opportunities, and personal development. Associating with individuals who share our values, work ethic, and professional integrity can elevate our own standing and open doors to new avenues of success. Conversely, aligning ourselves with those who lack integrity, engage in unethical behavior, or have a negative reputation can tarnish our own standing and hinder our progress. There are many who are no longer lawyers due to making a horrible choice in who to trust. As lawyers, we must exercise discernment and be mindful of the company we keep, for our associations can either propel us forward or drag us down.

Being choosy about your clients may be your most important choice. Your practice, your income, and indeed, your satisfaction are dependent on who you chose to represent. At certain points in a legal career, your client choices may be limited. However, always strive to come to a place in your practice of law where you can have the leisure to choose the clients that best dovetail with your practice of law.

Choosing the right law firm to work for is a pivotal decision that can shape an entire legal career. Different law firms possess unique cultures, values, and areas of expertise. By conducting thorough research and self-reflection, a choosy lawyer can identify the firm that aligns with their professional aspirations and personal goals. A firm that values collaboration, professional growth, and excellence will foster an environment where lawyers can thrive and reach their full potential. Conversely, joining a firm solely for its prestige or financial rewards, without considering its values and cultural fit, may lead to dissatisfaction and hinder long-term success.

Equally important is selecting the type of law to practice. A choosy lawyer understands their own strengths, interests, and long-term objectives, allowing them to make an informed decision about the area of law with which to specialize. Practicing in an area that aligns with their passions and talents not only enhances job satisfaction but also promotes continuous growth and expertise. Young or old, keep being choosy as you progress in the legal practice. You can always change what area of law you practice in and try something else. Personally, I’ve navigated through at least five distinct legal domains in my career, each transition marked by significant success. We are not captives in a plush office. As lawyers, agency and choice are our bedrock. We have choice, and with a robust network of relationships, you can always change your practice for the better.

Unfortunately, we frequently find ourselves facing an array of unfavorable choices. Even when faced with choices that are bad and worse, we must still make a choice. These choices separate great lawyers from the average. Don’t let the process of choosing between bad or worse paralyze you. A choosy lawyer does not fall prey to the darkness of analysis paralysis.

Don’t let your guard down on mundane choices either. A decision may appear innocuous, leading us to assume it carries no significant consequence, be it positive or negative. Unfortunately, this assumption is frequently mistaken. A noted expert on making momentous choices, George Washington, believed small choices were life’s most consequential: “Real crises are often concealed in occurrences so trivial in appearance that they pass unobserved.”

Being choosy is so consequential that its importance is frequently overlooked. Strive for excellence in pivotal decisions, endeavor to extract value from less favorable options, and do not underestimate the significance of seemingly minor choices. Let’s all resolve to be choosy lawyers.

Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors. 

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