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What Attorneys Can Learn from Hip-Hop Music Mogul, Jay-Z

Shawn Carter (aka Jay Z) is known as a famous rapper and hip-hop music mogul (and married to Beyonce). He has sold more than 100 million records and received more than 20 Grammy Awards. His hit song 99 Problems even caught the attention of legal scholars.[1]

Artistry and entertainment aside, the life and career of this music mogul and megastar offers important lessons for young attorneys.

Learn your craft.

Jay-Z has been referred to as the greatest rapper of all time. While we may attribute his success   to luck (can a child from the projects really be worth more than $500 million as an adult?), his path to success has been remarkably deliberate: he chose something to focus on and mastered it. When his focused preparation and eventual mastery met with the right opportunity, he pounced and took the music world by storm.

What attorneys can learn:

First, honestly evaluate your talents, passions, and likely viability of your path. Carefully choose and consistently cultivate your area(s) of expertise. Think about how you are known within and outside of your organization and community.

Then, be thoughtful, deliberate, and consistent about mastering your craft — and be just as thoughtful, deliberate and consistent about how you develop your brand and export it. Whether it is writing posts on social media, speaking on a panel, or serving on a board of directors for a non-profit, remember that you are building a network of valuable relationships.

Take initiative, and look where it isn’t obvious .

Jay Z famously said “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business… man.” He went from being a rapper to a mogul who raps.

When he took over Def Jam Records, he recognized that most record companies were not adapting to the landscape fast enough. He radically changed the incentive structure for his company. Then, when there couldn’t be a bigger divide between rock and rap, Jay Z deliberately collaborated with rock band, Linkin Park. After that, he expanded his pursuits from the music industry and entered into: sports entertainment, electronics, and fashion. At the time, it seemed his pursuits were unfocused — but today, if you attend a Brooklyn Nets game, you will see everything from the uniform, seats, and clubhouse attributable to him (not to mention hear his music everywhere).

What attorneys can learn:

You cannot just sit back and rest when industries and economy is changing so rapidly. The law as a whole may not be agile in responding to changes or trends — but that does not mean you shouldn’t be. If an opening does not present itself to you, create one. Take advantage of what you spot, take initiative, and do not be afraid to explore unchartered waters.

Coming forward with fresh ideas grabs the attention of leadership and shows that you are thinking ahead. What may seem like a bold move today can be the difference between leading and playing catch-up tomorrow. This also means tactfully making your skills, successes, and achievements known to your network and firm leadership.

Seek mentors, and aspire to be a resource for others.

Jay-Z fans know that he looked to the Notorious B.I.G. as his inspiration and mentor and can point to where it reflects in his music and his career. Outside of music, Jay-Z also famously sought counsel from Warren Buffet. Just as others were willing to give him time, Jay-Z has also served as a resource for those he saw potential in (including Rihanna).

What attorneys can learn:

You want as many people championing you in your corner as possible. A good mentor can be the difference on a bad day. Whether seeking opportunities for advancement or skillful guidance on how to navigate a complex situation, cultivating a relationship with leaders pays dividends down the road. Attorneys should keep in mind that they should also impart their knowledge to new lawyers and law students, who are not only potential references, but also the future of the legal profession.

You may have 99 problems, but hopefully these lessons mean that your career won’t be one.


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