How the power of focus can shape your legal career

February 16, 2018

There’s a great story about Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s first meeting; Mr. Gates’ mother (the host of the dinner) asked both men what, in a single word, was the most important factor for their success.  Their answers were the same: “focus”. (Read the article here).

Similarly, when it comes to your legal career, the benefits of focus can be significant.  Having a clear focus on your career goals can better permit you to contemplate a trajectory or growth plan along a longer event horizon. This can give you a much greater chance of achieving your objectives, no matter how lofty they may be, than if you were simply building your career on a reactionary basis.

As a legal recruitment consultant, I’ve dealt with numerous lawyers over the years who have had otherwise successful careers, but lament they ended up specializing in a practice area ‘by accident’, acknowledging it was a lack of focus or purpose in their early career that led them to the skills they possess today.

Sometimes they come to embrace this accidental career but, often, there is a frustration expressed as transitioning practice areas at a later stage in their legal careers can be daunting, particularly given how quickly the legal market can define a lawyer’s focus and specialization post call to the bar.

By contrast, one of the most remarkable young lawyers I met occurred while she was still a student. She reached out as a law student to gain perspective on what she would need to do to ultimately pursue a practice in London or New York at a major international law firm. We discussed the importance of early academic success, along with targeting top Canadian law firms with international recognition for articles as a key step to her early legal career development. Then, subsequently, waiting for the right opportunity after three years of practice to make the leap to a major international market.

While such conversations with a law student may, in and of itself, not be altogether remarkable, what was unique in this case was her follow through with her goals. Today she is thriving as a successful associate at a magic circle law firm in London (where, incidentally, we placed her).  That early focus allowed her to work with a much longer event horizon and take the necessary steps to achieve the goals she set out early in her career.

Ultimately, a long-term perspective, particularly when combined with clarity and focus, can permit you to achieve both greater and more meaningful goals that may better align with your personal and professional objectives.

Warren Smith, Managing Partner