Career check-in: What can lawyers carry forward from 2020?

Wooden steps going upwards in the right

This past year imparted many difficult lessons. While there’s no way to insulate your practice from everything that could potentially bring change, at the very least, you can try to look into the future and think about what might be coming down the pike. A reasonable amount of mental preparedness can help you build resiliency — your ability to withstand and manage change.

As you contemplate what you want your life and practice to look like in 2021, here are three broad topics to think about. There isn’t any one perfect answer to any of them. Rather, view these as thought exercises that will help you, at a high level, develop flexibility and adaptability.

What changes in the law are likely in 2021?

Your practice area won’t look the same in 2021 as it did in 2020. Even if your state or local community didn’t experience significant changes in your practice area, national trends are expanding and will hit home sooner or later. For example:

  • In the November 2020 elections, Arizona, New Jersey, and South Dakota legalized cannabis to a greater degree. That’s going to impact criminal defense work, and even if your state hasn’t passed similar marijuana legislation yet, the national trend is moving toward relaxing its criminalization.
  • Voters in California passed the California Privacy Rights Act (CRPA), which amends and expands upon the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). When the CPRA goes into effect in 2023, consumers will have more control over how their information is used—and businesses will have more administrative responsibilities. California is often a bellwether for the rest of the nation, so attorneys in other states might see something similar to the CPRA or CCPA soon.
  • According to the National Employment Law Project, 21 states and 26 cities and counties increased their minimum wage in 2020. More may follow suit in 2021, but even if they don’t, business and employment law attorneys (to say nothing of employers) now have to play hopscotch if they employ people in jurisdictions with different minimum wages. If more jurisdictions increase their minimum wages, the issue will compound.

Change is much harder to deal with when it catches you by surprise. It will serve you well to prepare now for eventual shifts in your practice area.

What changes do I want to see in my practice?

The legal industry is infamous for resisting change, often to its detriment. Attorneys who don’t make use of technology and new marketing tools are wasting time and effort, alienating current clients, and impairing their ability to draw in new business. Your practice shouldn’t change wholesale from year to year, but it’s reasonable that you should expect small-but-significant changes the longer you practice. The end of the year is a good time to think about what went well in your practice, what didn’t, and how to make improvements.

How can I take better care of myself?

Attorneys are notorious for overworking. That may be especially true for solo attorneys and lawyers at small firms because when it’s a “feast” period in the “feast and famine” cycle, it can be difficult to tear yourself away from work. Burning the candle at both ends can’t go on forever, though, and you aren’t doing anyone—yourself or your practice—any favors by running yourself ragged.

“Self-care” is a term that’s used so broadly it can be tough to define, but at its core, it means that you are prioritizing yourself. Within the legal realm, that means you’re looking after your physical and mental well-being, not just the success of your practice and clients. Self-care looks different for everyone. It can be doing yoga three times a week, or it can be making sure you have at least one evening where you don’t check work e-mails, no matter how busy you are. If it makes you feel like you’re less stressed and more balanced, then it’s a good thing to do.

As a final thought, remember you are resilient. 2020 brought innumerable personal and professional challenges and you should be commended for your efforts.

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