From Inspiration to Invasion: Worthy Reads for New Lawyers

The three featured books on a desk

WSBA practice management advisor Charity Anastasio suggests three take-action titles to help set the stage for a new generation of lawyers.

A wide swath of the lawyer workforce is preparing to wind down in the next 10 years. Meanwhile, there is a smaller (and possibly scrappier) set of new lawyers coming into their own. These titles will inspire those up-and-coming lawyers. They may even give lawyers the confidence and strength of purpose to stage a full-on invasion of the profession! To borrow any of these books, click on the titles below.

Law Practice Strategy: Creating a New Business Model for Solos and Small Firms
Donna K. Seyle (May 2011)
The title is a bit deceptive, because it is not a book that is going to help you strategize any business model. Donna Seyle is definitely advocating a certain alternative business model. She wrote it in 2011, at the relative beginning of the alternative model movement (as I see it). Her discussion of market forces making the traditional firm model a deteriorating, less profitable model is still compelling, even though some of the information is out of date. The tech advice is surprisingly current, though this could be attributed to its surface-level treatment and I would still recommend some more recent blogs and articles to supplement the most current information. But her nimble office model is mostly current and applicable to any law practice, and she advocates for it in a short, digestible volume. It is full of sound practical advice and positive solutions, instead of the doomsday predictions of the demise of the profession that seem to frequent the blogosphere and news these days.

My favorite chapter is “Alternative Fee Agreements: The Face of Opportunity.” Here she essentially attacks the billable hour. Seyle does not offer a clear replacement model, but instead offers the more helpful and meaningful questions one would ask to get to one’s own more value-based arrangement.

She also covers social media, blogging, security, cloud, virtual law offices, project management, and efficiency. This is an awesome book for getting started when it seems your mentors don’t know the “new world order” and you need to find your own way. It would also be helpful to established firm owners who want to get reorganization ideas. I could even see an associate or newer partner using this book to advocate for these concepts in an office that needs an update. Check this title out if you want an overview of the more modern approaches to the law office and the beginning steps to implementing those changes or creating a new law firm in that new image.

How to Achieve Success After the Bar Exam: A Step-by-Step Action Plan
Joan R. M. Bullock (April 2015)
If the goal is to start your own practice right out of the gate, then check this one out. Everyone talks about Foonberg’s classic How to Start and Build a Law Office and Gibson’s Flying Solo. Those are in the LOMAP lending library and also referenced in How to Achieve. But I love action plans. This volume has a workbook feel to it from the start, with to-do checklists, questions and spaces to write answers, and the wire binder. I love the 8-week plan format and author Joan R.M. Bullock hits the nail on the head with all the pertinent steps she lays out. Many of them are often forgotten or done half-heartedly when opening a practice.

One criticism: If I looked just at the title, I would expect this book to help me find a job. The networking chapter will hit home for new lawyer job seekers, and accountability and the basics of practice management couldn’t hurt a new lawyer, but Bullock makes the assumption that her readers will be creating their own job rather than taking on someone else’s. If my conversations with members and own experience are any indication, this would make sense. It seems that the “associate track” has all but gone extinct in the last 10 years. But it wouldn’t have hurt to clarify this so that people wanting a job could go straight for the networking advice.

The Marble and the Sculptor: From Law School to Law Practice
Keith Robert Lee (November 2013)
A blogger prior to authoring this book, Lee writes in very “bloggeresque” prose, with quick chapters in clear, quirky chunks. The Marble and the Sculptor feels like it was written just for me, only I picked it up 10 years too late. If you are still in law school, read part 1. But if you are not, I give you permission to skip it. (There’s a chance it will just make you feel lousy about all the deep relationships you did not develop in law school. Yes, I felt some of that.)

The real meat is in the rest of the book, with chapters on fundamental skills, client services, and professional development. Lee gets at the heart of some of the biggest enemies to lawyer success and whacks them with witty, smart solutions. For example, in “Busy vs. Remarkable,” he reminds us that some of the work we do as lawyers is “deep work” that is more cognitively demanding than the average email checking and phone calls, and that it will “generate rare and valuable results.”

This book is really fun to read, but also eye-opening for new lawyers. And Lee is frank — something all of us aspiring and new lawyers should have had before we made big life decisions. My favorite quote:

Just so we are absolutely clear: the stress you face in law school is bullshit. It does not even begin to measure to the enormous stress that comes with being a lawyer. The stress that comes with being a lawyer is from a different world. A lawyer is a collector of problems. A magnet that attracts only conflicts.

Read this book if you need some straight talk and some “Yes! That is how it is!” feelings. But make no mistake: even though Lee is fun to read, the book has tangible, clear plans and ideas you can implement to make your firm more successful and your work life better.

More to explore

Flying Solo: A Survival Guide for the Solo and Small Firm Lawyer (4th Edition)
K. William Gibson (July 2005)
Gives advice on approaches, methods, systems, and perspectives that a solo practitioner should consider.

How to Start and Build a Law Practice (4th Edition)
Jay G. Foonberg (February 1999)
Information and advice that will help you compete, succeed, and grow your practice using the guidance on identifying the right location, finding clients, setting fees, managing your office, maintaining an ethical and responsible practice, maximizing available resources, and upholding your standards.

Learn more about WSBA’s Lending Library and explore the full library catalog.