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Advancing Your Legal Career Path

Priority number one for Superior Executive & Legal Recruiting (SELR) is to enhance the careers of the candidates we place. This blog is another in a series of blogs dedicated to offering you professional and tangible advice to help you succeed in a competitive legal job marketplace.


Career development should be viewed as an ongoing process of persistent learning and subsequent decision-making that brings you closer to your ideal level of accomplishment—one that will hopefully offer you the professional and personal lifestyle you envision. The process takes careful attention to identifying your own strengths as well as your possible “blind spots” that require improvement through education and unique experiences. Ultimately, career development is about creating multiple paths forward that will provide opportunities for landing positions that closely match your skill set, experience, and professional interests. It may seem obvious but it must be stated and underscored: everything you plan for and build now will define your future success.

Setting Goals = Moving Forward

First and foremost, a robust and strategic professional development plan is at the core of moving forward. In fact, it’s essential to achieving the kind of expertise and growth necessary for you to compete and thrive in a fiercely competitive legal field.

Your first step is to identify REALISTIC career goals—and these goals may look very different depending on where you stand in your career. Are you just graduating from law school and about to take the Bar Exam? Are you at your first job as an attorney? Or are you a seasoned professional in a large law firm? Indeed, the goals may vary but the basic processes of planning-learning-and-implementing will be similar. And experts agree: no matter where you are in your legal practice, it’s critical to set development goals in order to advance your practice and energize your growth. Remember, the key is to never stop learning. Once we believe that we “know it all” or have “seen it all,” we’re doomed. Like most foundational advice, it may seem hackneyed or obvious but it’s the hard truth.

Setting Goals: Who’s in Charge?

When setting your “lawyer” goals, there’s one major commandment to follow: You’re the expert in charge of planning your career… tailor your strategy to fit YOUR needs and future desires.

Now, there’s no doubt that setting these goals can be tricky. You’re probably wondering: How specific should my goals be? What type of goals should I categorize? How many goals should I define? The answers will differ depending on your unique situation, legal expertise, and career vision, but what remains consistent across the board is this—have clear and meaningful goals; benchmarks that plainly define your aspirations.

When settings goals, career advisors also suggest that individuals establish challenging but achievable targets, ones that force you to work and grow to new standards. But these experts also warn individuals not to set unrealistic or unattainable goals; this too-aggressive behavior creates demoralizing scenarios.

Putting Pen to Paper

Tangible tip: write everything down—whether on your laptop, a yellow legal pad, or a napkin… write it all down. Start with trigger words, phrases, and/or brief ideas of where you are now and where you envision yourself progressing over the near future… and then continue to massage and develop these sketches into detailed concepts that you will then enlarge into a detailed and strategic plan, one with concrete goals as well as an action plan on how you will execute and achieve each objective.

Another concurrently developed document should be focused on your legal and personal talents as well as your perceived shortcomings. We all have them. It’s not about wallowing in the negative but being professional (and honest) enough to recognize a deficiency and then working that deficiency until it becomes a positive. For instance, public speaking may freak you out. That’s a common hill to climb. Good news: there are classes and specialists with the know-how and expertise to help you build confidence and overcome this perceived weakness.

When drafting what some career experts call a personal business plan, it’s important to identify and include specific skill sets and then break these down into “hard” and “soft” categories. Ask and answer questions like: Where should my skill sets be at this juncture of my career? What about one-two-or five years from now? For example, as you grow your legal career, the management of people could become an important hard skill. Determine how you can develop your management skills now before it becomes a pressing reality.

Most lawyers are outstanding writers. A soft skill to improve (and a great way to get noticed) is to start publishing. Blogs and articles are a great way to highlight your current expertise as well as a great way to stretch your writing and research into new territory. Speaking engagements can work in much the same way.

Hold Yourself Accountable

When developing and writing your strategies, create a professionally written and researched plan as if you were going to submit the document to a firm or organization. It should be that serious of an endeavor.

A well-honed document as suggested here will help you to hold yourself accountable. Did I join that professional organization? Did I attend a series of educational seminars geared toward my current or desired specialty? Did I join a legal team to do pro bono work for a cause I care about? Am I associated or engaged enough with various civic and community organizations? Have I met with or networked with other like-minded professionals? Professional growth (and the current legal job market) demands well-rounded individuals. Attorneys who are well read, well-traveled, and who’ve experienced many cultures and professional environments are more likely to be embraced by firms and organizations looking to partner with well-rounded talent.

It's also important to set realistic deadlines—with target dates. These dates can be honest ballpark targets but it’s imperative to meet these limits. If not, goals can easily languish.

Revise on the Fly

Don’t be afraid to revise your plan or change objectives when unforeseen circumstances (positive and negative) arise. Be honest with yourself: are these circumstances truly forcing you to alter course or are they excuses because certain plans and goals went unachieved? We all have to own our career goals and choices. Be straight with yourself.

Let People Know

Also, when you reach a milestone or achieve a goal, don’t be afraid to post on social media, your communication network (which should be growing daily). Some folks call it “post and boast”—if you don’t do it, no one will. This is an integral part of networking.

No Magic Involved

Successful and meaningful careers don’t just magically happen. It takes concrete planning, diligent hard work, creative ideas, and continued learning toward a future that you define and envision. Gloria Steinem famously said, “Without an idea, without the imagination of change, you cannot spark change. It’s the imagination that comes first.” Good advice for the evolution of anything, especially career growth.

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