Build Your Legal Experience with the 10% Rule

Waiting for the perfect case to walk through your door is a losing proposition. If you only limit yourself to taking the cases with which you feel entirely comfortable, you will be stuck working on a few simple types of cases for your entire career—never developing the legal experience necessary for your career to progress. This will make you bored and unmotivated. I have had far too many referrals from people who are totally capable to handle the cases they send me, and they just missed an opportunity to build experience and bring in revenue.

To avoid being sentenced to a static career, I advocate using the 10% Rule (which is something I just made up for this post). For each case you take, you should be unfamiliar with how to do about 10% of it. This is enough to keep you learning and keep you interested as the case proceeds, but not so much that you will find yourself in violation of Rule 1.1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. You still need to be competent to take the case, but the lack of a bit of the necessary knowledge or experience is not a problem and should not deter you from taking the case.

One of the best ways to learn is through experience, so one of the best ways to build your legal knowledge and experience is by taking on tasks you have not performed or mastered.



Get Lawyerist in Your Inbox, Daily

Current Articles
Current Lab Discussions
  • Graham,

    This is really great advice. It’s human nature to not want to venture out of our comfort zone. But I’ve found great rewards for those that do.

  • Phil Rhodes

    Great advice. I’ve broadened my expertise by doing that throughout my career. I’ve also learned the hard way not to cross that line too much. I’m not happy, my client isn’t happy, and I’m not going to be profitable on that matter. I’ve found I have to be most careful as a solo when I could really use that next big case, or when the matter seems especially interesting.

  • Graham Martin

    Thanks, friends! I have had to work on figuring out how much discomfort to take on in a given case, and although I can probably muster more than 10%, it seems like a nice number—especially for those people who are scared to stick their necks out.

    Phil: I too have spent far too much time on certain cases where I just didn’t have the expertise necessary to make it worth my time. Just because some learning on a case is good, doesn’t mean a LOT of learning on a case is better. I find myself far more satisfied and encouraged by working incrementally on these things rather than just jumping into the pool with no idea of what should be done.