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Top Lawyers: Sheila Murphy of Focus Forward Consulting On The 5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law

An Interview With Chere Estrin

Lawyers must be able to be strong advocates for themselves, as well as their clients. It will make a tremendous difference in your career if you advocate strongly for yourself when asking for development or business opportunities, as well as in self-evaluations and promotional memos. Remember, why would anyone trust your advocacy skills if you are not excellent at advocating for yourself.

Sheila Murphy – Focus Forward Consulting

The legal field is known to be extremely competitive. Lawyers are often smart, ambitious, and highly educated. That being said, what does it take to stand out and become a “Top Lawyer” in your specific field of law? In this interview series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law”, we are talking to top lawyers who share what it takes to excel and stand out in your industry.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheila Muprhy.

For over 20 years, as a former senior legal officer for a Fortune 50 company, Sheila Murphy successfully developed, coached, and transformed talent in corporate America, and law firms. Today, as CEO of Focus Forward Consulting and a certified coach and career consultant, she partners with both inside and outside counsel to build fulfilling and thriving careers, practices and businesses. Sheila helps lawyers take their careers from uncertain and uninspired to unstoppable.

I hope you find that reading these interviews is as exciting and inspiring as it was for me to put them together for you! – Chere

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law? Did you want to be an attorney “when you grew up”?

I have been an old movie buff even as a child and found career inspiration in these films. Movies like Adam’s Rib, Witness for the Prosecution, Anatomy of a Murder, and of course, To Kill a Mocking Bird. I loved how the lawyers in these movies unraveled puzzles and mysteries and zealously advocated for the clients. I wanted to be that person in the courtroom.

However, in law school, my focus switched to corporate law because I was a severe introvert with a fear of public speaking. During my law firm career and the beginning of my time in-house, I feared speaking up and having others discover I was a fraud. Then the fates intervened, and on the first day of work at a law firm, the managing partner came out to tell me they needed me in litigation. My heart sank. This was not the future I envisioned.

While inhouse, I realized that I was just as talented, if not more so than many of my peers- but if I wanted to be the advocate that my clients deserved and have the career I earned, I needed to change my approach.

My AHA moment came when the company promoted a peer whose legal skills were lacking. Despite his misguided advice, I realized that because he had no trouble opening and making the right relationships, he was going to get ahead, and I would not. I imagined the impact for the company and my career if I changed– and I like what I envisioned, so I started to change my career development approach. And it worked. By the time my peer left the company, he had reported to me. I now coach both inside and outside lawyers on their career journeys so they can have the career they deserve.

Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?

As I mentioned above, I started as a litigator in a law firm. When I moved in house to a Fortune 50 financial organization, I continued to advocate for my clients and spearhead investigations and regulatory matters. As an in-house counsel, I also believed that much of the value I provided was identifying and proactively risk-mitigating counseling and developing a talent pipeline.

You are a successful attorney. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? What unique qualities do you have that others may not? Can you please share a story or example for each? ….

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