Legal and Compliance Executive Search Blog

What defines a successful legal career?

Posted by Momentum Search Partners on Tue, Aug 27, 2019

SUC·CESS   /səkˈses/

The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.  Antonym: failure.

The attainment of popularity or profit.  Prosperity, prosperousness, successfulness, affluence, wealth,  opulence and luxury.  Antonyms: failure, poverty.

A person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.  Synonyms: triumph, bestseller, box-office success, sellout, coup.  Antonyms: failure, flop, disaster.


What is the definition of success for a law career? Is it the number of trials that were won or big deals that were closed?  Or perhaps it is a certain amount of revenue generated in one year. To determine what makes a lawyer/law firm successful, you must first define success.

“The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same."

-- Colin R. Davis

Winning a case is always the desired outcome, especially if you are the winner. However, does winning just one case make an attorney successful? Or do you need to win two, three or 10 cases before you can be qualified as successful?  This again begs the question - how much revenue must an attorney or law firm generate be classified as successful? And, it is possible to receive a favorable outcome without accumulating wealth?

However, when you look at some philosophies of some wealthy business leaders, they do not equate wealth with success. Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group believes “true success should be measured by how happy you are.” Similarly, Mark Cuban stated “the definition of success is waking up in the morning with a smile on your face, knowing it’s going to be a great day.” Warren Buffett believes “the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

As a young attorney, it is important that you attend CLE and legal workshops within your area of practice. Never stop learning. That applies to learning how to be successful, too. Here are a few basic keys to becoming a successful attorney.

Establish a Professional and Personal Network. Cultivate relationships both professional and personal. Create a diverse network of professional colleagues and mentors who can give you advice and guidance (and who you can advise as well). Cultivate relationships with former college and law school classmates, members of your national and local bar associations and members of social organizations that interest you. These individuals can be instrumental in providing clients, as well as helping you promote your key attributes and skills within the community.

Develop Good Communication Skills. Lawyers need excellent verbal and written skills. You not only need to communicate concisely but to actively listen during conversations.

Maintain Your Integrity at all Times. Integrity is the foundation of your character. It enhances all other values and beliefs in which you hold. This goes way beyond your ethical duties prescribed by your bar association. It is about being honest and taking responsibility.

Be Innovative. Put your ego aside and remain open to creative and reasonable solutions. The legal industry is changing; be willing to create and adopt effective and cost-efficient processes in servicing your clients.

Be Persistent. Perseverance and determination will help you forge through the most difficult cases and obtain a positive result for the client.  “Fall seven times and stand up eight." -- Japanese Proverb

Attitude is Everything. Being enthusiastic and energized demonstrates a real interest in your firm and your clients. 

Would you like me to give you a formula for success?  It's quite simple, really: Double your rate of failure.  You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn't at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that's where you will find success."

-- Thomas J. Watson, IBM

Topics: Attorneys