As April ushers in a new season, it’s the perfect time to reflect on our career journeys and seek inspiration for the road ahead. On our podcast, Law Firm ILN-telligence, we often delve into the pivotal lessons learned by legal professionals throughout their careers. With spring in full swing, I’m excited to share some of these invaluable insights to energize and motivate you on your professional climb. Join me as we explore essential career lessons that every lawyer should embrace for success in the legal world.

Never Give Up

Never to give up. It’s simple as that. There are so many situations…Well, every one of us knows this. But there are so many situations when you think, ‘Wow. That’s really a tough one. How can I solve this problem?’ And it makes a sense to say, ‘I want to find a solution.’ And I think about this and I’m taking the time, find the best way, and in the end, come to a solution. And even during months of a lawsuit, and it can continue for years, it’s very important to keep on going, say, ‘I will never give up.’ Because sometimes you think you will never make it, and then something happens, you find the right angle and you change the case totally. So that’s, I think, something I really learned.

Armin Lange, Grundwerk Legal, Germany

Most important lesson? The most important lesson is to persevere, and never give up, and just continue doing what you think is right, and at some point, it’s going to turn right. Perseverance is… And being calm. Keep calm and carry on, I think that’s what I learned most valuable in my career.

Henrique Lopes, KLA Advogados, Brazil

Own Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. And I tell this to the lawyers under me: In short of blowing a statute of limitations, which we have never done, every mistake is fixable and you just need to own your mistakes. And if it was someone under you that made the mistake, you still need to own it as the manager or supervisor, owner, it doesn’t matter. And come up with a solution how to fix it. But sweeping things under the rug, it just gets worse. It festers and it builds up. And the sooner you can address the problem and come up with a solution, it’s better for you. It’s better for the clients. It’s better for opposing counsel. And I see this in litigation too. When you’re in front of a judge, don’t try and push it. Own up to what’s an error, own up to where… show your weakness, say, your honor, we’re weak in this part and I’ll concede that. However, on this point, we’re very strong and here’s X, Y and Z why. And it’s somewhat of somewhat of an honesty policy.

Barry Cohen, Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, Pennsylvania, USA

Be a Good Listener…and Know When to Be Quiet

There’s always something I tell my associates, it’s to listen, which is to listen to your opponent or to your client even, but at court to listen to the opponent. And the second thing is think twice before you answer. And the third is, the most difficult thing in our job is to keep your mouth shut in the necessary moment. I think it’s the most difficult thing. You have a client sitting at court beside you, there is some testimony in front of the judge and everybody is expecting from you, courtroom movies that you are now asking the most brilliant questions. But sometimes it’s much better to keep your mouth shut, to not ask anything, to say, ‘Thank you. Bye-bye. I have no questions.’ The client is upset, ‘Why isn’t he asking anything?’ But if you notice that this testimony has the ability to hurt your case, get rid of him as soon as possible with as few questions as somehow possible.

I always tell my associates, ‘Just think if it’s really necessary to ask this question. Keep your mouth shut if it’s not really helping the case.’ And this is really difficult, even after many years, I’m doing this job more than 30 years, so still I’m always thinking, ‘Is the next question bringing anything better for my client or do I give the testimony the chance to deposit a little bit more that is in my disadvantage?’ And if this is the case, don’t ask.

Andreas Bauer, BRAUNEIS, Austria

There are Always Two Sides

I think there are always two sides to something. Even when we are providing advice, especially in terms of litigation, as you are trying to understand your client’s case, it’s important to understand the opposite counsel’s case, the other party’s case. And sometimes when you look at it, you’d find that there’s a divergent point where whatever is taking you to court started from. So don’t be quick to judge, take a step back to understand all the information. And sometimes it is important that clients want quick answers, quick responses, but sometimes it is important to get all the information both for your case and understand the other person’s case. Otherwise, you’d get surprises.

Brendah Mpanga, BNM Advocates, Uganda

Show up with Solutions

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my career is that, and this is something that I always tell the attorneys that come to work with me. I say to them, ‘This is the lesson, is that you are going to be dealing on your day-to-day with problems. You will have problems all day long. You will have problems at home, you will have problems at the office. Clients, this is what’s good about attorneys. Clients pay you when they have problems.’

What I said to them is, ‘No matter if you are on the right path or on the wrong path, always come to me with an alternative or a solution. If you do that, we are on track and we’ll work together, and we will sort it out together. But never come to me with a problem, without a solution or without a possible solution.’ It doesn’t have to be right, but let’s all work on it and that’s what I call teamwork.

That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned over my career. I’ve learned it the hard way working with a boss that delegated, I would say, too much. But at the end, that was the big lesson. As I’ve mentioned, always tell my attorneys, my associates, my juniors, ‘Let’s work focusing on this work, let’s work on solutions.’

Daniel Garcia, Gamboa Garcia & Cardona, Colombia

It’s Better to Call Than to Assume

The most important lesson, it’s more on a psychological side because the most part of my work is correspondence. The communication is mostly in written form, mostly emails. And sometimes when you discuss something with the client you may get the wrong idea of the tone of their intentions of what they want. So it’s always better to call the client and especially if the situation is somehow tricky, you are not discussing some provisions of the contract, you are discussing some maybe strategy. It is always better to talk to your client during the video call because sometimes you may assign wrong meaning to the written words and it is always better to clear everything out during the face-to-face online meeting.

Galyna Melnyk, PETERKA & PARTNERS, Ukraine

“I Don’t Know” IS Always an Answer

The most important lesson I’ve learned over my career is that before I give an answer, I have to be sure of what that answer is, and I’m sure you’ve heard this before from other attorneys. You might have seen recently in the news there was a slide deck from Paul Hastings that came out that was advice to junior associates there. One of the things on that slide deck was, ‘I don’t know is never an answer,’ and I really disagree with that advice. If I’m a junior associate, in particular, and a question is asked of me and I am not sure of what the answer is, tell them that. The last thing you want to have happen is a fact ending up in a brief that you never got to review that you said was true and winds up being false. It’s not just limited to arguments before the court and things like that.

You want to make sure that your colleagues have confidence in you and that when they ask you a question, they know that they’re getting the right answer. It’s very easy as a young associate, or even a senior attorney working with a client, to lose reputation because you gave an answer that turns out not to be correct.

Alan Silverstein, Connolly Gallagher, Delaware, USA

That you as a lawyer, have the obligation to be curious. Always be curious, always dig deeper into a case and find the one threat you have to start pulling to find a solution. So, for me, that’s the most important lesson, always be curious, always ask for the why and how did that work, what happened? And always be receptive for those kinds of signals.

Peter Fousert, PlasBossinade, the Netherlands

It’s About Relationships

The most satisfying thing about my career has been the relationships that I have forged over the years. If you look at 80% of my close friends, they all started as clients. Even my Swiss partner, I met him randomly on an M&A deal, and then he contacted me because he saw my bio, and he saw that I liked classical music, and introduced himself. And now we’re obviously good friends, and we’ve been to Switzerland to meet them, and their family is lovely. But my closest friends are…most of them started as clients. You meet tons of interesting people. It has enriched my life far and above just pure practice of law, and so what does that teach you? It teaches you that you’ve got to approach your job, really not as a job, but as a…it’s almost like a calling. You really need to care enough to put yourself in the client’s shoes, make their problems your problems, and feel like you are really contributing to somebody’s life.

David Gitlin, Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, Pennsylvania, USA

Well, the first is relationships are the most important thing, right? Relationships with other colleagues, like the ILN, is such an amazing example of that. I had a matter last year, yes, last year, it was in 2022, and it was an international matter. It had to do with enforcing a restrictive covenant.

A sales leader left a company in one country in Europe and took a group with him and spread out all over with this group, competing directly with my client. And I was able to, right away, send emails, get on the phone with colleagues in all of the jurisdictions in which I needed help. It was amazing. So, relationships are everything. And of course, relationships with your clients are so key to, as you said before, being their business partner.

The other thing that I’ve learned, and I always tell younger lawyers about this, is, excuse me, when the phone doesn’t ring, enjoy. Don’t worry that the phone will never ring because it will, and you’re going to be slammed. So, if you have a little lull, take advantage of it. Give yourself a little bit of downtime if you can because you need that, you need to restore that energy and refresh.

Tamsin Kaplan, Davis Malm, Massachusetts, USA

Networking, networking, networking. When I was doing my international maritime law masters, Professor David Attard, who was one of the biggest mentors, I forgot to mention him, he had this mantra: networking, networking, networking.

And in this course where people from like 36 different countries do international maritime law, I already believed in networking as a good source of knowledge and context. But this cemented it.

Recently I went to give a talk at this International Maritime Institute, and I asked the students, “Does Attard still tell you networking, networking, networking?” And yes, he still does. So, there you go. That was, I think, the biggest lesson. I’ve managed to give advice, not just take and take, take, take.

But yes, it’s the best resource, best tool that you can have, almost more than your books.

Geraldine Spiteri, Acumum Legal & Advisory, Malta

It’s a People Business

Never forget humanity, the human part of your clients’ experiences. Doesn’t matter how hard-nosed, if it’s the big M&A deal, try and understand the people in the deal, and what’s motivating them, what they need, what they’re looking for, what their motivations are, and understanding that transactions and disputes involve people and emotions, and inevitably lawyers get tangled up in that. And therefore you need to manage your own emotions. Even when you feel like being a cheer squad for your client, you shouldn’t be. You should be an advocate and an advisor. So the thing that you have to bring to it is emotional intelligence, empathy, sometimes sympathy, but understanding everyone for what they want and recognizing that life’s not a battle. It’s actually about generating some decent outcomes, even in the most torrid piece of litigation.

Your job ethically, I’m no deep reader, but Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer. And I remember reading a book, probably at high school, studying it, but he said, ‘A lawyer’s primary ethical obligation is to settle disputes. It’s not to fight them.’ And so bringing that into the commercial space, it’s to get an outcome that works for everyone, but ultimately understanding that’s not PSYOPs, it’s understanding people and then saying, ‘Okay, how can I tailor what I do professionally and non-professionally?’

Sven Burchartz, Kalus Kenny Intelex, Australia

Well, lots of lessons, but I would say firstly, the importance of relying on a solid team, both professionally and in the human dimension. We must not forget that we share lots of hours in our offices or nowadays via digital platforms with our colleagues, and it’s kind of a second family. So having a great group to work with is crucial to understand each other, to share a similar approach to the professional matters and the personal matters regarding values. This is crucial, and I’m very lucky to say that I’m in a team of such people. It makes things much easier, definitely, because behind every daily situation, both professional and personal, even those minor situations, there is an opportunity to learn something new. And I am grateful for learning everyday new things with these people.

Diego D’Odorico, SYLS, Argentina

Over 20 Years of Practice, You’ll Learn More than One Lesson

Well I have learned not only one, but several lessons. So, what is that? A client can always leave you, but a friend can never leave you. So, what I have thought over a period of time and what we have started doing is a form also. And it’s automatically because if you watch out for the client, the clients become your friends. Some of our longest lasting clients are who weren’t our friends before they became clients. They came on an arm’s length basis and over a period of time when we delivered them legal services in both litigation and corporate area, they slowly started becoming friends and they are continuing with us. So, for the clients and also lawyer, our profession is a profession of comfort and trust. It’s not only a profession of legal acumen, but also understanding the need of the client. It’s also delivering, but at the same time, there is also personal touch.

So, my first lesson is, which I tell everyone in my firm and others have told me also, that a client will leave you, A friend cannot leave you. Second thing that I’ve learned is I have the right to decide the fee for my professional services. Now in India, what has happened is that we are a big country, a lot of lawyers, a lot of law firms are also assuming now, and that has always been the case. But with now global aspirations and all, of course today’s generation more enterprising, more financially secure from home. So, a lot of law firms are coming up and sometimes we do face this situation where the fee comparisons happen. The clients also get three fee codes. I mean, that’s fairly standard across the world that you get two or three fee codes. So again, to understand that I am the sole deciding factor of what my fee would be, and a client may remain with us or come to us at that fee or may not come to us that fee, but we have to stick to whatever fee is.

Now, on the funny side, I’ve also learned that clients who pay you the least give you the maximum amount of sorrow. I was just joking, but somewhere that’s true. From the Indian landscape, Lindsay, I’ve also understood, because I started this firm and I have had friends who went to some of the bigger law firms, went to the competition law practice group or went to the intellectual law practice group, went to the stock markets group and do listing. Now I put a startup firm after six to seven years of practice, five to six years of practice because I practice in all the areas of law. Now, when a client becomes your friend and their client has business across India, he will have requirement in tax, he may have an employment law, he may have in litigation on different funds recovery to insolvency anything, bank loans, shareholder disputes.

So, if you are only specialized in a particular area, you may be called a specialist. But in India, to be able to start your own practice, a journalist law firm set up, a journalist with a very good and grounded understanding of law and landscape in India, practicalities of the Indian landscape is better as compared to only a specialist. Now with these specialists, when they have a aspiration of setting up their own farm, they end up setting up a law firm, which specifically in competition law, now their scope, their fishing net is not cast very wide.

They can only catch some of the competition law clients because competition law clients will also have issues and will also have preferences of not going to a freshly startup law firm, they would want to go with established name. It becomes much more difficult. I often tell lawyers because the profession of law gives you this unique advantage of working in-house, working with law firms as also being able to set up your own practice and which is a very important ingredient of practice of law. You can be independent.

So, I tell mostly the lawyers who are willing to listen to me, not all of them also want to get lessons from seniors, but those who are willing to listen to me, I say never say no to work. If you get an apportion to go to the court, go there. Your experience never goes to waste. Just don’t have this idea that I am in this practice group, so I’ll do only this work. You are limiting your potential. You are doing no harm to the firm. The firm nevertheless will pay for your work and get paid. But for you to grow in practice and be proud of the work that you have done after 20 years of practice, you need to take every opportunity of working in different areas of law as you can get. That is the last one of the few lessons that I’ve learned in my life.

Alishan Naqvee, LexCounsel, India
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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the goals of a global professional services network. She manages all major aspects of the Network, including recruitment, member retention, and providing exceptional client service to an international membership base.

In her role as Executive Director, Griffiths manages a mix of international programs, engages a diverse global community, and develops an international membership base. She leads the development and successful implementation of major organizational initiatives, manages interpersonal relationships, and possesses executive presence with audiences of internal and external stakeholders. Griffiths excels at project management, organization, and planning, writes and speaks with influence and authority, and works independently while demonstrating flexibility in thinking, especially in challenging situations. She also adapts to diverse and dynamic environments with constant assessment and recalibration.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

In 2021, the ILN was honored as Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer European Awards, and in 2016, 2017, and 2022, they were shortlisted as Global Law Firm Network of the Year. Since 2011, the Network has been listed as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network, recently increasing this ranking to be included in the top two percent of law firm networks globally, as well as adding two regional rankings. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry and was included in Clio’s list of “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful, and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was chosen as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February 2009.