Leadership. As you move through your career you will accumulate more responsibility and people will look to you for leadership. Becoming a great lawyer is rarely a solo act and you will need to be able to inspire those around you to give it their best and match your dedication and passion. To do this, you will need to great leadership skills. If you feel like leadership isn’t something that comes naturally to you, don’t worry. Leadership, like confidence, will come as you master your practice area.
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 John Joy.
John is a New York attorney and founder of FTI Law, New York’s premier whistleblower law firm. John has worked for almost a decade on financial crime cases around the globe involving bribery, corruption and fraud. John started his career in Ireland as a Barrister and then went on to work at an elite international law firm in New York and London. Now, John is Managing Attorney at FTI Law and helps whistleblowers report corporate wrongdoing to organizations like the SEC, DOJ and FBI.
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 wanted to be a lawyer as far back as I can remember. I had always been drawn to law as a profession that was designed to ensure that wrongs were ‘righted’ and justice was served. I started my career in the U.S. working at a large firm in New York and it was everything I could have hoped for. The cases were big and the work was exciting, but after a few years, I began to remember what had drawn me to the law in the first place. I had enough experience at that stage to know that working for large corporations was never going to give me the job satisfaction that I had hoped for. So, I left the firm and started my own practice that focuses on helping whistleblowers, something I’m passionate about. Every day I speak to people who are finding the courage to speak out about injustice, corruption and fraud, and I’m proud to be the one who tells them they are doing the right thing, and that I’ll do everything I can to help them.
Can you tell us a bit about the nature of your practice and what you focus on?
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?
A successful attorney needs determination, an analytical mind and confidence. The first two are straightforward, but the last one may surprise people as lawyers are often seen as bookish in comparison to their colleagues in sales or finance. At some point in your career, you’re going to need to inspire confidence in others, be that your team, a judge, a jury or your client. You simply can’t do that if you don’t have confidence in yourself and the best way to get that, is to master your practice area. Once you’ve done that, the confidence will come naturally and you should embrace it.
Do you think you have had luck in your success? Can you explain what you mean?
Luck has definitely played a part in my story. I came from Ireland as an immigrant and when I started looking for jobs, I realized that not having citizenship was a real drawback on my resume. Even after successful interviews, when people found out I wasn’t a citizen, I was told that it didn’t make sense to hire someone who would require paperwork for work permits and visas. Luckily, my resume ended up on the desk of a partner at a large firm who was himself an immigrant and he knew exactly how tough it was to get a foothold in the U.S. He gave me my first job offer, took care of all my immigration papers, and got me started as a lawyer in the U.S. I’m forever thankful to him for giving me that opportunity.
Do you think where you went to school has any bearing on your success? How important is it for a lawyer to go to a top-tier school?
Where you attend law school has no bearing on your ability as a lawyer. Unfortunately, the hiring practices of large firms in the U.S. are formulaic, and certain firms only recruit out of certain law schools. It’s an awful system, as it puts huge pressure on students at an early age and I believe it’s a major contributing factor to the high rates of ‘burnout’ we see in young lawyers. If you don’t get into a top school, don’t worry. Talent always rises to the top wherever it grows, and all you need to do is find a firm that will give you the space and resources to grow.
Based on the lessons you have learned from your experience, if you could go back in time and speak to your twenty-year-old self, what would you say? Would you do anything differently?
Ha! Good question. Not yet, ask me again in another few years.
This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?
I enjoy what I do. Even if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still do this.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We are working on some major cases, but unfortunately all our work is strictly confidential. Whistleblowers are often the target of retaliation so it’s of paramount importance that we never disclose who we work with or what we are working on.
Where do you go from here? Where do you aim to be in the next chapter of your career?
In the next five years we want to grow FTI Law into the largest whistleblower awards firm in the U.S. Our goal is to reach more people, educate them on the legal protections and incentives that are available to whistleblowers, and help them stand up for what is right.
Without sharing anything confidential, can you please share your most successful “war story”? Can you share the funniest?
Unfortunately, I can’t disclose details of any of our cases.
Ok, fantastic. Let’s now shift to discussing some advice for aspiring lawyers. Do you work remotely? Onsite? Or Hybrid? What do you think will be the future of how law offices operate? What do you prefer? Can you please explain what you mean?
At the moment we have a hybrid model where we have an office in Manhattan but we largely work remotely. This is because most of our clients are from outside the U.S.
How has the legal world changed since COVID? How do you think it might change in the near future? Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t think Covid has changed the legal world, but it has accelerated the adoption of technology. This is a good thing for clients as lawyers are notoriously slow to adopt new technology (a major flaw in my opinion) and Covid has forced a lot of large firms to adopt client-friendly technology that is already common in most other industries.
We often hear about the importance of networking and getting referrals. Is this still true today? Has the nature of networking changed or has its importance changed? Can you explain what you mean?
Yes, referrals are always important. Research shows that people rely on recommendations from friends and usually value those recommendations above awards and accolades. Word of mouth is the best way to grow your client base.
Based on your experience, how can attorneys effectively leverage social media to build their practice?
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to social media and for certain practices, it simply doesn’t make sense as a marketing channel. If you are dealing directly with the general public, the most important thing is that you have an accessible profile that is regularly updated and provides people with a simple and straightforward way to get in contact with you.
Excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Become A Top Lawyer In Your Specific Field of Law?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- Ambition. Becoming a lawyer is a difficult and competitive process, and those challenges only grow as you continue your career. Ambition is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to embark on a career in law.
- Dedication. There is no quick way to succeed in the legal profession. Unlike other industries where people can develop new products and become famous overnight, the road to success for lawyers is a long one. If you are going to become a top lawyer, you need dedication to make sure you can make it to the top.
- Passion. There are many lawyers who succeed because they are good at what they do. But if you want to be a top lawyer, you need to have a genuine passion for your practice. This doesn’t mean you have to love everything involved in the law, but fundamentally, you need to enjoy what you are helping your clients achieve. If you lack passion for your job, it will take a toll on you over the years and this is a surefire way to extinguish your ambition and dedication.
- Leadership. As you move through your career you will accumulate more responsibility and people will look to you for leadership. Becoming a great lawyer is rarely a solo act and you will need to be able to inspire those around you to give it their best and match your dedication and passion. To do this, you will need to great leadership skills. If you feel like leadership isn’t something that comes naturally to you, don’t worry. Leadership, like confidence, will come as you master your practice area.
- Entrepreneurship. Very few lawyers choose to start their own practice, as it’s the ultimate test of all the above qualities, and more. There is a great comfort in working for a firm which provides a steady paycheck, but if you want to be a top lawyer, you need to embrace a spirit of entrepreneurship that will allow you separate yourself from the pack.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
We are always looking to speak to anyone who wants to invest in promoting integrity. Apart from that, if I had to sit down with someone who’s career I admire, it would be former Acting United States Attorney General, Sally Yates.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you, it was a pleasure speaking to you.