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Don’t be a legal chameleon — own your practice

Everyone develops in different ways.

A colleague of mine recently described the development of her legal career as long periods of stagnation followed by short periods of accelerated growth. Another colleague compared himself to the hare in Aesop’s fable — slow and steady.

For me, I am somewhere in between.

I look back at my relatively short legal career and can now start to make out the trajectory of my growth as an attorney. From my first deposition to my umpteenth district court trial to my first argument before the Court of Special appeals, there have been many highs, many lows, and many periods of growth as an attorney. I believe that the turning point for me, however, was when I started taking ownership of my cases.

As a young lawyer, we are burdened with learning two distinct, but equally important things: 1) how to practice law, and 2) the law of the area in which we practice. For those of us who do not immediately hang out our shingle, there is usually someone at our office who is the boss. He or she tells us what to do, assists with our preparation, and guides us through the infancy of our legal career.

I have often remarked that one of the difficulties of being a young associate working for different partners is the fact the the associate must take on the persona of the partner that they are doing work for (something of a legal chameleon). Alas, the time will come when you are ready to handle the large legal matter. Whether it is the big complex corporate deal, the jury trial at the beginning of the year, or the appeal of the administrative hearing, you want to claim it as your own.

I believe that this is the step that needs to be taken to reach the next level. This is the next great step in one’s evolution, like opposable thumbs or the discovery of fire. For some, it may be baby step after baby step until the realization finally hits them that they are ready. For others, it’s giant leaps of faith and, maybe after a hard tumble or two, a sense of readiness.

Either way, the ability to take charge and take control of a matter doesn’t happen overnight. But when it does, it’s an important part of your legal evolution.