A legal career can easily last 40 years or more. So, if you are 20 years out of law school, you are near the midpoint of your career. 

Think back over the last 20 years and ask what’s changed in the law for your clients and in the market your clients work in. Writing this in 2024 and looking back over the last 20 years, the changes could fill volumes, but some highlights include: 

  • The invention of the iPhone and the full embrace of smartphone technology (and all of its privacy implications).
  • The Great Recession and changes to financial regulation that resulted. 
  • A pandemic that transformed how people work.
  • Social media came into existence.
  • Blockchain technologies and cryptocurrency came into existence.
  • The introduction of large language models and AI to the general public.

The last 20 years have touched every industry and every legal practice in one way or another. Even in cases where the law hasn’t changed much, your clients’ questions, concerns, and understanding of the law will have changed. 

And if you aren’t keeping up, you’re falling behind. 

As busy as the last twenty years were, the next twenty years will almost certainly bring even more change at an even faster pace.  

Crucial to Be(coming) a Happy Rainmaker is giving good advice to your clients; you must be their trusted legal advisor. That means you must stay ahead of their changing needs and perspectives. 

Embracing Change: Why Stagnation is a Lawyer’s Worst Enemy

Your clients exist within a continuously changing environment. 

If you graduated from law school 20 years ago and hadn’t your practice to the changes listed above, your advice would be out-of-date. Even if it were correct, even if somehow your area of law hadn’t changed in the last 20 years, your advice wouldn’t be connecting with the context of your clients’ experiences. 

Learning Continuously allows you to keep up with change, keep your advice relevant, and better engage your clients. 

But there’s more: continuous learning keeps you sharp. In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey called this “Sharpen the Saw.” It’s the 7th habit. He and others have done research showing that continuous learning improves critical thinking and problem-solving skills

There is even some suggestion that continuous learning or “mental stimulation” can help prevent dementia (which seems like a good enough reason to keep learning all by itself!). 

Not Only Keeping Up With Change, Learn to Understand Your Clients Better

Continuous learning, however, is not just about staying updated with the latest technological trends or legislation. It’s also about understanding your clients and their needs more deeply. 

As you grow from an associate to a partner, your contacts are also moving through hierarchies in their firms. This growth means that conversations, challenges, and questions they will have will change as well. 

Or, your client may start as a startup and grow to a multi-billion dollar enterprise; the challenges they face will shift dramatically with that growth. Consider the lawyer Jeff Bezos must have first hired when working on a plywood desk in a closet: that lawyer would have to learn a lot to stay up with Amazon’s transformation. 

Learning Continuously separates the best lawyers from the average because it keeps your advice relevant, timely, and focused on your clients’ needs. 

The Advantages of Learning Continuously Include

In addition to helping you keep up with the market, better Develop Business, and provide relevant advice to your clients, learning continuously will help you: 

  • Feel more confident in your career and advice: the more you know, the more confident you will feel. 
  • Adapt to a changing market: if you have to shift your career (see Planning Intentionally), a Learning Continuously practice will give you the edge and help you adjust. 
  • Be more satisfied at work: research shows that people who Learn Continuously are happier at work. 
  • Gain insights that you can use to write papers, articles, and posts.

How to learn continuously

Continuous learning takes many forms. 

It is essential that your learning extends beyond the CLE courses you are required to take. CLE is helpful, but you’ll need to do more. 

Some ideas include: 

  • Take courses in relevant areas; these can be online courses, in-person lectures, workshops, or several other formats. Taking a course in your client’s field has the added bonus of getting you in front of more potential clients: you are learning more and meeting more of the right people. 
  • Attend industry conferences; you can learn a lot by listening to the talks at conferences, and you will be in a great position to meet prospective clients. 
  • Read the news: pay close attention to the headlines and changes in your clients’ industry or business area. This helps you stay on top of trends and keeps you up to date with industry gossip so that when you meet with your clients, you can speak their language and know what’s happening. 
  • Ask questions: as highly trained professional experts, lawyers often want to have the answer rather than ask questions. But when it comes to industry knowledge or industry changes, asking your clients for more detail shows you’re interested, allows them to be the expert for a while, and gives you inside information. Every piece of industry information you learn from one client becomes knowledge you can use with other clients.
  • Read books: reading about an industry or changes in the industry will keep you informed. It can also be an excellent way to Care for Yourself (maybe you’re reading on a beach?).

What You Can Do in .1

Learning takes time and effort. Like with Developing Business, the greatest benefit accrues with continuous effort over time. Some things you can do in .1 are: 

  • Ask a question. 
  • Scan the headlines. 
  • Find a book. 
  • Find a course. 
  • Find a conference. 

Learning Continuously Keeps You Ahead

It’s easy to fall into the trap of being done with school, but that is a mistake. The world will not stop changing, so staying relevant requires that you keep learning. 

There are many ways to Learn Continuously, from formal study to reviewing the headlines. It often has the added benefit of putting you in the same room as your prospects, which will always help with business development. 

So, start today: find something you can do in the next 6 minutes to stay ahead.