What’s Luck Got to Do With It?

Upon reading Josh’s post yesterday reflecting on the first 18 months of the firm, I took a few seconds to think about where my firm’s been since my partner and I joined forces, about 18 months ago ourselves.

And after some quiet contemplation, I recognize that it’s not just a Horatio Alger “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” story of two men’s succeeding due to their character and hard work. I mean, while I’d like to credit our continuing operation all to my dashing good looks and brilliant legal mind, I recognize at the same time that Jordan and I have been extremely fortunate these last few months in getting our firm off the ground.

Yeah. We’ve gotten lucky. I’d wager that no matter what anyone tells you about how great they are, luck has a big part of success in any firm. So here are a three instances of how I got lucky, then made the best out of the situations I found myself in.

A judicial clerkship helps me start my firm, but I got it only because I volunteered my time during my 2L year to work for a judge

As I approached my graduation date in spring 2010, I faced a situation similar to many of my classmates: no jobs.

After graduation, while studying from the bar, I still faced that same situation: no jobs.

After taking the bar, while awaiting the results: no jobs.

This was terribly frustrating.

But then, in fall 2010, just as the bar results were to be released, I received a call from a Judge whom I’d volunteered time working for back during my 2L year. He needed a clerk. He needed that clerk to start soon. He wanted that clerk to be me. So I took the job.

Luck: The judge needed me exactly when I was looking for a full-time job.

Making the best of that luck: While working for the judge, I read countless motions and pleadings, honed my research and writing skills, and sat in on several trials. Because I sat in on as many trials as I did, I met the attorneys who were regularly trying cases in our court. I’m still in touch with many of those attorneys today, who serve as referral sources and mentors. Furthermore, my judge was in the last year of his tenure before retirement. When he retired, he gave me most of his law books, which jump-started my firm’s legal library.

But I only got the job because I volunteered my time during my 2L year.

I meet Jordan on the SoloSez listserv, even though we live two blocks from each other on the same street

In my first year of practice, I ran it part-time from the front room of house. I had business cards printed up, which I was handing out to everyone I knew. I hand a small book of clients, which wasn’t getting me a Porsche anytime soon, but sufficed to keep beer on the table.

At the time, I was on the ABA SoloSez listserv, and I hoped to get to know the several attorneys on the list and learn some things from them — maybe bounce around an idea or two.

One day on the listserv, I saw a post by a younger lawyer named “Jordan” who was several years into practice at a firm. He was in the Philadelphia area, considering opening a practice, and was curious about others’ experiences doing so. So I sent him an email:

Hey, I’m in Philadelphia too. Where in Philadelphia are you?

Now, Philadelphia’s a big city — about 1.5 million people. He responded:

I’m up in Fishtown.

Floored, I write back:

Me too. Let’s get a beer.

After some more back-and-forth, we learned that Jordan and I lived on the same street, two blocks away from one another. We agreed to meet at a local gastropub that was both our favorite place to go. We met up and talked business for a bit

As a result of that chat, Jordan offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse: I would get my first legitimate office space, rent-free, for my first year of practice,  by squatting in the local branch of Jordan’s firm, and occasionally completing per diem projects for them. Bonus: the office space was across the street from my house, a literal 30 second commute.

Luck: Meeting another younger lawyer on a national lawyer listserv, only to learn that he lives two blocks away from you, has office space in the neighborhood, and will let you use it for free.

Making the best of that luck: Taking advantage of the offer. using the office space to meet with clients, and getting to know another local attorney well enough that he ultimately made the decision to join forces.

Some blog puts out some feelers for a new writer, and I end up writing for Lawyerist

Some time late last year, I remember getting an email seeking a new men’s style writer for the Lawyerist. I put in for the job, and I got it.

Luck: Someone needing a writer for the blog and me getting an email about Lawyerist needing a new blog writer.

Making the best of that luck: Applying for the job, getting it, and continuing to write every two weeks.

The Moral of the Story?

Success doesn’t come automatically from just smarts, hard work, and good character — a lot of it is luck.

But remember luck is often an opportunity for you to put those smarts, hard work, and good character to use.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/romtomtom/4382603005/

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  • Randall Ryder

    As someone with similar “luck” I also think it’s fair to to say that you work hard, you tend to create “luck.”

    • Ryan

      “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” – Aunt Cheryl

  • Jordan Rushie

    Oh cool, I wrote a post reflecting on our practice and then you write on the same day.

    Great idea, bro.

    • You guys should talk once in a while, or something.

      • Jordan Rushie

        Me: “I’m working from home on Friday.”
        Leo: “Good, that should help get the smell out of the office.”

    • black_metal_lawyer

      I wrote that post before you were even awake.

      • Jordan Rushie

        Then how would I have known about it? I thought you just wrote about how cool bow ties are or something.

        • black_metal_lawyer

          Sure, that will be my next post, just for you.

  • Wait, you think getting a gig writing for Lawyerist was lucky? Well, you’re probably right. I bet you are rolling in referrals from your guide to not dressing like a douche.