When doing research for my columns, I spend a lot of time thinking about how small-firm attorneys can get the right kind of attention. I can easily find examples of getting the wrong kind of attention: Kim Kardashian, Conrad Murray, and that child-bride who married the guy from Lost. Then, I received an email from a young small-firm lawyer practicing in Winston-Salem who provided me with a positive counter-example.
Michael Wells, Jr. practices personal injury law, litigation, and estate planning at Wells Jenkins Lucas & Jenkins PLLC. Wells is the youngest lawyer at this ten attorney firm. One of the other ten is his father, Michael Wells, Sr. Early on in his career, Wells set out to distinguish himself from his highly successful father and he has succeeded. The lessons he learned along the way can provide a useful road map for young attorneys….
Wells graduated from Wake Forest Law School in 2004 and went to work at Wells Jenkins after graduation. Working with his father proved very helpful for Wells’s development for many reasons. First, Wells Sr. was a great mentor. Second, Wells Sr. understood the value of marketing and instilled this value in his son. One of the marketing techniques practiced by Wells Sr. was his public service call-in show on local radio entitled “You and The Law.”
Building on the concept behind You and the Law, Wells began appearing on television panels to provide legal commentary. His first appearance came about through a connection who ran a home health care company who was going to be on a panel discussing health care issues for senior citizens. This appearance led to a steady stream of appearances on varying topics, including recently on my favorite topic, Kim K (in my world, everything goes back to Kimmy).
Wells also utilized social media to gain exposure for his practice. He started a blog. The blog contains fictional stories with a legal twist and links to current legal issues relevant to Wells’s practice (for instance, that I was going to be profiling Wells).
Yet, the most important and effective way that Wells has found to get his name out has been his pro bono work and his commitment to the legal community. Three years ago, Wells and Jocelyn Fina, his co-chair on the Young Lawyers Division Law and Aging Committee of the North Carolina Bar Association, started Project Grace. Project Grace is an initiative that provides underprivileged, mainly senior citizen, North Carolinians with health care powers of attorney and living wills through one-day legal clinics held in various locations throughout North Carolina. The first two clinics, one in Winston-Salem the other in Raleigh, served 130 clients. In addition to Project Grace, Wells has worked on a project to help victims of Hurricane Irene file FEMA claims.
As a result of his pro bono commitment, Wells was recently awarded the Young Lawyer Pro Bono Service Award by the North Carolina Bar Association and Project Grace received the Service to the Public Award by the Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association. Likely related to his good work for the community (and for his clients), Wells has also been recognized by SuperLawyers Magazine as a “Rising Star” in 2010 and 2011, by Business North Carolina as one of the “Legal Elite Young Guns” in 2011, and by Triad Business Journal’s “40 Under Forty” award for 2009.
Through his own professional arc, Wells has come to learn the power of helping your community as a way to elevate your professional status and personal fulfillment. As he said in a prior interview, “[i]f you really want to enhance your reputation, yes, you need to do a good job as a lawyer, but there is a high correlation between attorneys who are active in the bar association and other pro bono activities and those that are very highly regarded lawyers.”
So, young lawyers looking to build their professional reputation, take a page out of Wells’s book (or television segment) and commit yourself to pro bono service.
When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.