ELIZABETH BROTTEN is a shareholder at Lind, Jensen, Sullivan & Peterson, P.A. She focuses her practice on defending product manufacturers, suppliers, and installers in high-risk product liability and toxic tort cases. She currently serves on national steering committees for the Defense Research Institutes’ Toxic Tort and Environmental Law and Women in the Law. Locally, she serves on the Hennepin County Bar Foundation’s board of directors and as vice-chair of the Minnesota Defense Lawyer’s Products Liability Committee.
You’ve been practicing about 10 years and recently spoke at a CLE on what lawyers can do to set themselves up for early success in their career. What advice did you share?
My co-presenter, Megan Kelley (employee relations counsel at Target), and I quickly realized that there is a great deal to discuss on early career success, so we broke the topic down into a top 10 list. We discussed the things that a new lawyer can do to become the “go-to” associate in his or her firm, like taking ownership of assignments, anticipating needs, understanding how work fits into the big picture of the case, and doing really excellent work.
We talked about taking ownership over career trajectory. Think about what you want your practice to look like in five years, 10 years, and 20 years. Ask for the experiences that will put you on the path you want to be on. If those experiences are not available in your current work situation, create them for yourself. This may mean getting involved in organizations that are focused on a particular area of law, becoming an expert in a particular area of law through writing or speaking engagements, or changing your practice setting. Do not count on someone else to look out for your career trajectory. It is your responsibility.
We discussed the process of business generation and how it requires persistence and patience. Stay close with your law school friends. Make connections through bar associations. If you have an opportunity to attend a conference or seminar, take it, and make connections with as many people as you can.
As a young attorney, how did you lay a foundation for your career path?
I learned reputation is an incredibly important asset. As a new attorney, that begins within your own firm, and expands into the legal community as you begin to interact with other attorneys through work on cases. Reputation-building begins on day one, and will be with you throughout your career. Be someone who can be counted on and is credible.
Can you recount a mistake that you made early in your law career and how you addressed it?
The biggest mistake I made early in my career was spending too much time in my office. I did not realize how important making and maintaining connections would be to my career. I thought that lawyers developed business solely by doing good work and working hard. While I was a member of several legal and community organizations, I was not truly “involved” in these organizations. I have since realized how important, and not to mention fun, it is to get involved in leadership of legal and community groups. Others I have met through these groups have referred business, shared career advice, given guidance on cases, and become friends.
What tips do you have for new attorneys about work/life balance?
It’s important to realize that everyone’s “balance” is different and it is a choice that is individualized and personal. What works for one person may not work for another. Do not judge yourself based on the “balance” another person has (or appears to have). I have three tips to help achieve your own personal balance.
First, have a support system in place. These are the people who can pick up your kids when you can’t leave work, or in my case, deliver me dinner at the office when I am preparing for trial. I do not know a successful lawyer who has done it completely on his or her own.
Second, set your own individual priorities. Assess what you want to achieve in your career, what is most important to you, and how you want to spend your evenings and weekends. To achieve a balance, you will ultimately need to make sure that your practice area and where you practice align with your priorities.
Finally, outsource the things that you determine are not top priorities for you. A housecleaning service, lawn-mowing service, and meal preparation services are some of the most valuable tools you can have to achieve balance.