Eight Actions Law Firm Associates Can Take to Succeed

I love hearing and sharing insights from successful professionals.  Thanks to Laura McClellan, Partner atThompson & Knight for today's post.  

Eight Specific Actions You Can Take to Evidence an Ownership Mentality

by Guest Blogger Laura McClellan

If you are an associate seeking advancement through the ranks to partnership – or, for that matter, a partner seeking to excel in that role – what are some specific actions you can take that demonstrate an ownership mentality?

  1. Volunteer for, and follow through on, non-billable tasks that benefit the section and the firm (e.g., provide meaningful service on committees; help with retreat planning and execution)
  2. Initiate client relations/business development activities. Cultivate sincere relationships with the clients you have contact with. Invite them to lunch. Think of them when your firm sponsors an educational seminar that might be of interest to them; invite them personally, and then attend and sit with them. Introduce them to colleagues in other practice areas.
  3. Do your tasks efficiently and well, spending the appropriate amount of time on the work and staying aware of clients’ concerns about the cost of legal services.
  4. Think ahead – what else needs to be done? Don’t just sit in your office waiting for the next assignment. We can make ourselves important to our clients by making their jobs easier; you show your supervisors that you can do this for clients (and thus earn more responsibility) by making your supervisor’s job easier.
  5. Be a problem solver, not only a problem identifier. If you run into a question you’re not sure about, put some thought into possible solutions before going to the senior attorney – not “Here’s this problem; what do we do?” but “Here’s the problem; I think we could solve it by doing x or y or z.”
  6. Be available and responsive. Clients want to know they can reach you when they need you, and that you’ll answer them promptly when they have questions. This is important at all times, but especially during a closing or other crisis
  7. Communicate. Keep the client (and/or your supervisor) in the loop. Copy (or bcc) them on email and other correspondence. Don’t wait to be asked about status; provide updates regularly. This matters to clients, so it matters to owners – just because you know everything’s under control doesn’t mean they know, so check in with them before they call or email asking what’s going on with their project.
  8. Honor your word. Never fail to meet a deadline or to do what you say you’ll do. In the early stages of your career, you’ll be given small pieces of a project to work on, often in the background. Senior lawyers will gladly relinquish more and more responsibility for matters if and when you show that you are both competent and 100% reliable. You show this by doing the things described above.

What have I missed? Can you suggest other “best practices” for cultivating and demonstrating an ownership mentality in your industry or profession?

Laura McClellan is a partner in the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight LLP, where she focuses her practice on real estate and real estate finance.  She is a fellow in the American College of Mortgage Attorneys and has been named in The Best Lawyers in America by Woodward/White Inc. (Real Estate Law, 2012).  Laura blogs from time to time at Real Estate Law Blog and can be reached at

Want to Succeed in Law? Adopt an Ownership Mentality

Today's post comes from guest blogger, Laura McClellan, Partner, Thompson & Knight LLP

One of the keys to long-term success in a law firm (or, for that matter, any other business) is having an “ownership mentality.” Below are some thoughts on what it means to evidence an ownership mentality and specific behaviors that would evidence such a mentality.

First, having an ownership mentality means thinking constantly about how to ensure the business’s success.

  • An owner focuses on both the long-term, big-picture components of success, and the day-to-day issues of running a business. That is, an owner thinks about both the long-term task of building a practice and the day-to-day matters like how the electric bill will get paid
  • An owner’s thoughts about the business don’t stop at the end of the work day
  • The difference between an employee mindset and an owner’s mindset: An employee worries about losing his or her job; an owner worries about the business failing

Second, owners take personal responsibility for the business’s success. An owner knows that the business’s success will require his or her personal investment of time and money. Owners know that the buck stops with them. They don’t look to someone else to make things work.

  • Think as if you have no partners and the business’s success is entirely dependent on what you do. If you were practicing on your own, with no one to “get” work for you, what would you do on a day-to-day basis to make sure your business succeeds?
  • Owners are proactive. They don’t (because they can’t) wait for someone else to initiate business-building activity, but take the lead

Third, Owners constantly seek to understand their clients or customers and to look at the business from the client’s perspective. Owners understand that clients are the company’s reason for existence and therefore are indispensible to the firm’s success, and the company’s success or failure directly impacts the individual’s success or failure. Because they pay attention, owners know what clients want: top quality work product at a reasonable price. Owners are personally concerned with understanding and meeting each client’s needs. They pay attention to providing high quality work – giving every piece of work product their best thought, their best drafting, their most careful proofreading. In the law firm context, owners know that clients are concerned about the high cost of legal services; in response, an owner will work hard to spend an appropriate amount of time on the file by working efficiently.

As opposed to an employee mindset, an ownership mentality follows this overarching guide: Treat this business as if it is yours to inherit. Because it is.

Laura McClellan is a partner in the Dallas office of Thompson & Knight LLP, where she focuses her practice on real estate and realestate finance. She is a fellow in the American College of Mortgage Attorneys and has been named in The Best Lawyers in America® by Woodward/White Inc. (Real Estate Law, 2012). Laura blogs from time to time at Real Estate Law Blog and can be reached at

Number One Concern for 4 Generations of Lawyers? It's the Economy Stupid!

Fifty-year lawyer Rust Reid smiles when he remembers his starting salary as a newly-minted attorney:

"New lawyers were more like apprentices, paid about the same as public school teachers and worth a lot less."

Recently Reid and I participated in a panel discussion at the Dallas Bar Association featuring perspectives from four generations of lawyers. The number one issue across the board? The economy.

Here's how it played out among the generations.

Gen Y.  This generation was born between 1980 and 2000 (lawyers age 31 and under). Gen Y'er Erin Callahan is a recent graduate of SMU Dedman Law School. Like many new graduates, she plans to hang out a shingle. Acoording to Callahan, the biggest stress among her peers is debt; the national average is $70,000 in debt for new grads of public law schools and $90,000 for private law school grads. Some of her classmates have student loan debt as high as $200,000 with no job in sight. 

Gen X. Penny Blackwell is a Partner with GreenbergTraurig and President of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers. Penny graduated in 2000 when top law school graduates received a $40,000 raise afteraccepting jobs with big law firms and before reporting for day one of work. They never expected to be paid that well and felt tremendous pressure to produce. Today, the pressure contines. Even though many would trade dollars for time, they don't want to give up the seat at the table that equity partnership brings. And they worry about the new lawyers coming behind them who are starting solo practices. Blackwell and other bar leaders fear these lawyers will not get the training and mentoring they need. She believes the Bar must take on the challenge of helping them succeed.  

Boomers:  Ike Vanden Eykel is a hard-working baby boomer, CEO of a prestigious family law firm,Koons Fuller, and Immediate Past President of the Dallas Bar Association. He wonders where the new lawyers are who are willing to work as hard as his generation.  I too am a baby boomer and Vanden Eykel's concern is one I've heard often from my cohorts.  He acknowledges that:

"Many younger lawyers look at the "dysfunctional" lives baby boomers have created and say "no thanks."

But his experience is that they don't really want to say "no thanks" to the corresponding incomes that baby boomers have generated. Boomer lawyers are also worried about retirement.  Will they have the needed savings?  And will they really be happy to let go of the reins? For many the answer is no.  

Matures:  These lawyers are 66 and over. Many have postponed retirement due to inadequate savings and stock market declines. They are known for their loyaly, modesty and hard work ethic.  Panelist Rust Reid exempliefies this generation. He continues to practice law today with the same firm where he began his career, Thompson & Knight. He doesn't much like the billable hour and recalls the time in his career when lawyers resisted recording time. In 1960 when he started his career, billing was determined by the value to the client. He concedes that firms could afford to worry less about billing then since new atttorneys at top firms were paid the equivilant of $40,000 in today's dollars; time to learn and train was built into the salary structure then.  And with less debt than today's graduates, the finanical pressure on the new lawyer was less as well.  

I left the panel that day with mixed feelings.  I know that the newest generation of lawyers haa a rough road ahead. Not only will they struggle with student debt and perhaps fewer opportunities for legal employment; they also may not have access to the mentoring and training that lawyers of my generation received. On the other hand, the enthusiasm and commitment to the profession that I hear from Callahan and many of her cohorts is reminiscent of another generation of lawyers, the ones who mentored me. One in particular comes to mind. His name........ Rust Reid.