Are Lawyers Natural Thought Leaders?

The answer is yes.

A thought leader is one whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential. A lawyer succeeds in that objective every time she advocates for a client. Lawyers conduct research, synthesize ideas, craft compelling stories, and deliver persuasive arguments. Through commitment, skill, and talent, lawyers pull off amazing results. Thought leadership is a part of who we are.

But when the case is over, I’m afraid that too many lawyers simply close their files and move on without sharing their lessons with the world. This sentiment is based on experience, research, and informational interviews.

I’m profoundly interested in this concept of finding our “calling.” Once we we find this deep sense of purpose, it will become easier to generate the energy needed to push limits and become thought leaders.

It wasn’t until I started reading books in subjects outside of law when I realized that many of us were leaving behind wisdom and brilliance in our filing cabinets. Not all of us, sure, (i.e. judges, professors, renowned trial lawyers, writers) but perhaps most us. Lawyers who operate small practices, between 2-5 lawyers, comprise 76% of the legal market.[1] Then let’s factor in the mental-health data that plagues our profession. The American Bar Association reports that 28% of lawyers experience mild or higher levels of depression; 19% experience anxiety; 23% experience chronic levels of stress; and 20.6% struggle with alcohol abuse.

I see too many lawyers stuck in task-based, money-chasing, and rigid work environments. Passion and purpose give way to pragmatism and fear. In order to survive, we deal with unpleasant problems and demanding people. We have little control but are expected to always deliver. Many of us are losing autonomy, and with it, our identity. We need space to think creatively, do what we love, and conduct deep work. Absent that, what are we really achieving?

We’re only as stuck as we allow ourselves to be. Henry Ford famously said, “whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.” The world needs our fresh insights. The world needs us to find that overlooked problem, and solve it.

Yesterday, I heard Robin Sharma, a top leadership expert, say that “each of us has the potential to be the best in the world at one thing.” I believe that. Consider the uniqueness and complexity of our brains, personalities, and experiences.

With joy, I created a bulleted list of action steps to become thought leaders. It was inspired by the book, Stand Out: How to Find your Breakthrough Idea and Build a following around it, by Dorie Clark.

  • Think deeply about needs
  • Question assumptions
  • Seek a breakthrough idea
  • Add unique perspective to that idea
  • Conduct independent research
  • Synthesize concepts
  • Build an educational model to convey your idea
  • Speak publicly
  • Give away content
  • Network actively and build a community
  • Master good habits
  • Think and write creatively
  • Read and learn constantly
  • Volunteer
  • Offer practical insights
  • Start a mastermind group
  • Focus on a niche
  • Predict trends
  • Find an overlooked story
  • Align with researchers and think tanks
  • Inspire and motivate
  • Stretch your abilities
  • Popularize and spread valuable ideas
  • Expand your influence
Think about the rush of energy we’d get if we had the opportunity to advance our passion in the above ways. We absolutely do. We were licensed to become thought leaders.

[1] The Lawyer Statistical Report, American Bar Foundation, 1985, 1994, 2004, 2012 editions.

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