Proctor : August 2019
14 PROCTOR | August 2019 It takes a village... BY SARAH-ELKE KRAAL to raise a career Sarah-Elke Kraal is a Queensland Law Society legal professional development executive and solicitor. When you look at the top echelon of lawyers in Queensland – and indeed, Australia – they may at first glance appear remarkably different. After years of focusing their practice on a particular area of law (and in some cases, an even-more specific niche within that area), they seem to rise above the crowd in vastly different directions, embodying the legal contrasts between them, and becoming distinctly different practitioners as a result. Though our profession’s experts may ultimately differ, their recipes for success are all the same. They know that, to be successful in legal practice, you need to practise the business of law too. The business of law Practising the business of law is much bigger than simply knowing the law. It is recognising that each and every lawyer is ultimately running a business – and that business, is you. It is your personal brand, your value proposition, the way you operate in law and business, and your appreciation of commerciality. All this takes business nous and legal technical excellence, but it also takes talking to the right people, and asking a lot of questions. It takes timely inspiration, market data, competitor analysis, mentorship and effective technology. It takes putting aside some time to consider how you can tap into every aspect of your potential – in and out of law. In other words, it takes more than knowing the law to be successful. It takes a village. Building your village You can build a village any way you like, and with whomever you like. All successful lawyers usually have a core group of trusted and respected allies at the centre of their empire. These people (or businesses) may or may not be directly in the legal profession, but they will all undoubtedly support the key foundations of that practitioner’s success. Some may be mentors, others may be key innovators, others will be adept at data analysis and competitor monitoring, some will strengthen your wellbeing and (of course) a key few will assist you with your continuing legal education. You can gather your allies in lots of different ways. You might connect to practitioners you respect and admire on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, or perhaps by engaging with reverse mentor programs at your local university or alma mater (sometimes the best way to get a jump on the competition is to think like the next generation). But the easiest way to build your village is by attending – and engaging with – professional development (PD) conferences. Here’s how. How to win allies and influence people (in two days or less) Conferences and in-person seminars are untapped goldmines of opportunity to build your village. While it’s easy to hear ‘PD’, and automatically think of coffee carts, free pens, legislation updates and eating too much at lunch (not that I’m admitting anything), if you actually look a little deeper, you will find an entire ecosystem of allies and collaborators waiting to raise your career. Here’s how to take advantage of your next PD event so that you are truly developing professionally: 1. Speak to people: Yes, it can be the last thing you want to do as an introvert practitioner who really just wants to get in, get your CPD, and get out, but you are really missing out on valuable inside market information if you that’s all you do. Speak to trade exhibitors and make them your allies – find out what frictions they are noticing in the market, and what challenges your direct competitors are facing. Gather information on any unmet demands you might be able to meet, and mine for opportunities for innovation and growth. Speak to fellow attendees and remember to be open and honest about your practice and goals; while a very few will be potential competitors, most will be referral opportunities, and all will be potential support allies. 2. Engage with any presenters you admire: Most presenters will make themselves available during the conference to answer questions or to otherwise chat generally. Take the opportunity to connect with them during these times, and ask lots of questions. If you aspire to have a career similar to theirs, ask them questions about how they got to where they are. Facilitate a speed-mentoring session; they will undoubtedly be flattered! 3. Be seen: It is as easy as attending a practice-specific professional development conference in your area of law to start positioning yourself as an expert in that field. Genuinely engaging with fellow attendees and trade exhibitors at these conferences will start an automatic association between your name and that particular area of law. 4. Learn: No matter how experienced you are, or how long you’ve been in the business of law, you can always learn something new. Fight the urge to check emails or take calls during seminars, and immerse yourself in the session; give yourself permission to just listen and absorb, without any external distractions or pressure to multitask. Be mindful that your next big idea could come from it – and that could pay real dividends like solving a longstanding problem in your practice, or boosting your billables. 5. Have fun: It’s not all black letter law and buffet lunches, you know. Use networking drinks and dinners during the conference as an opportunity to relax and actually enjoy yourself. Some of our best and most valuable allies are met informally, when we are most ourselves, and have let go of the preconceived notion of networking’. Don’t worry about talking too much business, just talk. So, like anything in life, PD events are what you make of them. You can make a meal of it by sticking close to the dessert table (again, not admitting anything) and bustling from seminar room to seminar room, or you can start to build your village. To seize these opportunities and more, register for an upcoming conference today at qls.com.au.