The Best Advice

One of my favorite law-related newsletters is Mentor in Law from Nyssa Chopra. Nyssa does a terrific job of bringing together practical information on relevant topics for professional development. With a focus on diversity & inclusion and the future of work, newsletters feature advice on how to get into different fields of law from practicing lawyers, how to maximize your law school experience from law professors, how to navigate opportunities beyond the law from non-practicing lawyers, and how to build a successful career both in and out of the law. You really should subscribe!

One of the recurring questions she asks of her guests is about the best advice they received. Their words of wisdom are worth sharing.

“Always have a box of Kleenex in your office (I’m not kidding). Also: If you strike gold, stop digging. Let the other person talk more than you (or as Will Rogers said, “Never pass up a good opportunity to shut up.”) And: Enthusiasm is contagious.” – Bob Cumbrow, Miller Nash, Seattle

“Always ask for what you want.” – Colette Vogele, Facebook

“Apologize. You are going to make mistakes and mess up, either with a client, manager, peer, or direct report. Don’t keep digging yourself into a bigger hole. Admit the mistake. Apologize, present a suggestion on how you can fix the problem, and move forward.” – Nhu-Y Le, Corporate Counsel, Legalpad

“Lead with empathy: While relatively simplistic in form, these three words have had a profound impact on how I approach my work and how I collaborate with others.” – Miguel Willis, 2018 American Bar Association Legal Rebel, Innovator in Residence at UPenn Law

“The best way to network more naturally and not make it feel “forced” is to join groups and support causes you believe in.  It is important to be a part of bar associations and other lawyer affinity groups, but there are plenty of public service organizations out there that could use support and volunteers, and it is easier to get to know colleagues when you have a shared interest or cause.” – Barry Horwitz, Greenberg Traurig, Chicago

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” The dean of the medical school said this to me after I gave up my full ride on the 5th day of medical school.  He was right and I think about that piece of advice all the time. – Bridgette Carr, University of Michigan Law School, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives

“Failure, missteps, taking chances, and risks are what’s required to truly succeed and on that path, stay true to yourself.” – Divya Shenoy Gupta, Director of Privacy and E-Commerce, Blizzard Entertainment

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” – Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz, Managing counsel of employment law at Toyota Motors North America

“When I moved from my law firm in New York to my new law firm in San Francisco, I had a hard time adjusting.  I called one of my mentors and started complaining: “They’re not hiring enough associates and we’re overworked!  They’re not creating a community environment and we feel isolated!  They’re….” My mentor cut me off: “Ali, stop!!! It’s YOUR company, YOUR firm!!! Do something about it!  They’re not hiring enough associates?  Did you reach out to your friends, colleagues to get them to apply?! They’re not creating a community environment?  Did you set up happy hours, lunches, or informal coffee chats?! It’s YOUR firm, YOU do it!”  That blew my mind.  He was right.  We sometimes “they” “they” “they” a problem, as if someone would magically appear to resolve it – that someone is us, me, you!”  – Ali Assareh, Senior Corporate Counsel at The Clorox Company

“Make sure you do a great job. Having a reputation for doing quality work will take you very far.” – Alex Su, Director of Business Development at Evisort

“Apply the scientific method.” We spend way too much time theorizing about what our passions are, or taking batteries of personality and skill surveys. The biggest mistake we make is stopping there. Instead, we should test, test, test. Yes, do your research on the field and talk to people in that practice area, take skill surveys, think about what you love and what gives you energy. But, then go test that hypothesis, reshape it, and retest.” – Nathan Leong, Senior Attorney, Director U.S. Health at Microsoft

“Being underestimated is not the worst thing in the world.” – David Ammons, Managing Partner of LTL Attorneys

“First, my mom told me when I went to college to take courses based on the professor not the subject area.  You can enjoy learning almost anything if you have the right teacher. And that has been true in my career.  I never set out to be a First Amendment litigator – I started my career at a firm with a broad litigation practice. The lawyers I admired the most just happened to be First Amendment media lawyers.  And now, so am I. Second, be prepared.  There are really no short cuts to doing this job well – so you just have to put in the work.” – Rachel Strom, Davis Wright Tremaine, New York

“Always look for ways to be helpful. It doesn’t necessarily mean providing “legal” help, but it could be you taking on a project manager role to ensure a deal is being managed effectively, or you building a database of useful client information to have handy in case you are asked by a senior or the client. Developing a willingness to be helpful means being a good team member and collaborator, which only adds to your value proposition to those that you work with.” – Daniel Lo, legal counsel at UBS Asset Management in Singapore

“Most people want to help so reach out. They may not have the time at the moment but reach out, and if they are able to chat, come to the conversation prepared with questions or a topic and an ask. Use the time wisely. If they seem receptive but fall silent, life probably got hectic so follow up. And if they are unable to accommodate a conversation for whatever reason, ask for a recommendation of someone else you can speak with.” – Camille Stewart, Head of Security Policy for Google Play

People love to give advice. It’s easy to find someone to tell you what you want to hear, but what you really want is someone who tells you what you need to learn. That is far more valuable. If someone is just confirming what you already know or think, it may be comforting but it might not help you grow or develop. Advice that challenges you and makes you want to try something new can help you develop as a professional and a person.

Great advice can be priceless. The only problem is, when you hear it, it’s just plain advice. You only know if it’s great after the fact. So be receptive and open to ideas, to change. That’s when advice will speak to you and actually make a difference.

Until you read again…

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