Updated: Feb 12, 2020
Jordan M. Jones, Esq. Michigan Auto Law
How could I “be the expert” 15 minutes out of law school, without even knowing exactly where I was supposed to stand in the courtroom? I asked him, puzzled, “before you become an expert, don’t you have to be a student?”
As young lawyers, how can we stand out in a hyper-competitive, fast-paced legal world? How can we set ourselves apart from our young colleagues inside our firm – let alone the tens of thousands of other new lawyers who embark journey with us each year? How do we get noticed in a crowed legal field, that moves at the speed of light, and where the senior partners’ impression of you is only as good as your last pleading you turned in? These are difficult questions to answer; but difficult does not mean impossible.
“Be the Expert”
When I was new in my career, I received an invaluable piece of advice over lunch. A lawyer-mentor of mine told me that one great way to stand out is to “be the expert.” I wasn’t sure what he meant by that. How could I “be the expert” 15 minutes out of law school, without even knowing exactly where I was supposed to stand in the courtroom? I asked him, puzzled, “before you become an expert, don’t you have to be a student?” He simply responded: “the law changes all the time, and we are all students.” I left lunch confused, and admittedly frustrated. Little did I know that he was absolutely right.
After about 2 years of practice handling mostly commercial truck accident cases, and trying to learn as much as I could, there was a major change in the law. The Federal trucking laws for recording hours driven changed significantly. Although most practitioners saw it coming, nobody really understood “how” the law would change, or the practical implications. As emails frantically flew around the various listservs that I subscribe too, everybody had the same common question: what does this mean? Then it hit me. It was like the clouds parted and everything became clear: this was my shot to “be the expert.”
I sprung into action. I powered through all my work that week. I came in early, stayed late, worked at home, and did everything I could to make it to the weekend unencumbered by anything else. I did a deep dive into the new changes in the law. I learned it inside and out. I read the statute in its full text; researched the legislative history; read publicly available industry resources; and I even read the commentary from the “comment period” while the law was pending. By the time Monday rolled around, I was one of the most knowledgeable lawyers in country about the new law, and the implications moving forward. Just like that.
I sent out an email response on one of the listservs answering some questions that other lawyers had about it. Then the phone started ringing. I was asked to contribute an article on the subject to a nationally published legal journal, and to travel to the East Coast to present at a large legal seminar, at the age of 29. But most importantly: I stood out.
Change as the Great Equalizer
Change is the great equalizer in our profession. If new law is made on Friday, everyone comes in Monday on equal footing – at least insofar as knowing and understanding the new law. The legal field is unique. It is not like medicine, or financial services, or any other industry. Medical literature would never change overnight. Accounting standards are not overhauled in one stoke of the pen. But our laws change all the time. And when the law changes, we are all made into students. We must learn what the changes mean; theoretically, legally, and practically. That is an opportunity unique to our field – and we all have a chance to seize it. Whether you are a brand-new lawyer or a veteran partner; the opportunity to be the expert in novel law is there. From changes to the federal trucking laws, to the tax code, or even precedential opinions in your jurisdiction, new law means a new opportunity. So, as my mentor once said, to set yourself apart in a crowded legal field: go out there and “be the expert.”
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