Legal Career Planning
Managing your legal career just makes sense. Your career is your investment. An investment you have paid for with plenty of money, time and effort. It’s an asset you can use to make the most out of your life so it only makes sense to manage it properly, just as you would a monetary investment.
Most lawyers don’t plan their careers, they just let them happen. It doesn’t make sense to work so hard and so long to get that law license, and then just take the first job that comes along or to drift through your career hopping from one opportunity to the next. But, for the majority of attorneys, that’s exactly what happens. Why? Many times it is because we don’t have a clear vision of who we are, what we want and where we want to go.
Important questions to ask yourself:
Whether you are just starting out or in the middle of your legal career, it is important to know what you ultimately want. Even if your ultimate goal changes from time to time, you need a clear direction to move toward. Here are some questions:
1. What do I want out of my life?
Your career should serve you, not the other way around. I have seen many lawyers put their careers ahead of their personal lives and later regret it. In planning your career, it is important to first plan your life. Ask yourself:
- What do I want to be doing with my life in 5, 10, 20, 30 years?
- What do I want my life to have meant?
- Looking back on my life, what will I want to have accomplished?
- What outside interests do I want to pursue? What goals outside of the law do I want to achieve?
- How hard do I want to work and how important is money to me?
- What balance of professional and personal life do I want to have?
2. What do I want out of my legal career?
You can do a lot of things with a law degree, but what is it that you really want to do? Here are some questions to consider:
- What do I want my legal career to have meant?
- How much money do I need; how much do I want? Is just earning a lot of money my goal? (That’s OK, just be sure you choose it consciously.)
- Do I want to make a difference in the world, country, where I live, in society, the environment?
- Does prestige, fame, power or changing the legal system drive me? Where is my passion?
- Exactly how do I want to spend my time day to day: in trial, writing, researching, preparing documents, working directly with clients…?
3. What are my talents, skills and interests?
Talents are natural abilities you are born with such as athletic ability, affinity for numbers, memory and intelligence. Skills are abilities you acquire through education, training and practice such as the ability to play golf or speak a foreign language well. Interests are what drive you, what piques your curiosity, what you want to be involved in.
It’s important to know what you do well. Not that you have to do what you do best, but you should be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Lawyers are smart people and smart people can do a number of things well. But it’s a lot easier to do a job you’re well suited for. If you want to be a litigator but can’t get over your fear of public speaking or if you dislike conflict, think about it. You can probably litigate if you want to badly enough, just understand the cost in time and effort. Likewise, if you’re a whiz in the courtroom but abhor numbers, paper work and detail, you might want to reconsider that tax and estate planning job offer. Good legal career coaches know that in finding a job fit, the optimum is congruence between one’s talents, skills and interests.
4. What are the possibilities?
After thinking through the questions above, you will be better prepared to explore what options fit the life you want, the career you want and your talents, skills and interests. You may have narrowed the range of choices, but there are still many possibilities. It is important at this point to develop as many options as possible. Just as a professional photographer takes many pictures and chooses among them the very best photo, in your search, you need to develop many options so that you can choose the very best job option.
5. What steps do I need to take to reach my career goals?
Now is the time to determine the individual steps to take on your legal career path. There should be a logical sequence of events leading toward your desired career outcome. For example, you might start out with a firm, build your clientele and then go solo or perhaps begin your career working with a government agency, develop an expertise in a particular legal area and then leave for industry or a law firm. An experienced attorney developing a career plan might look to how he could leverage his existing clients or use his referral network to transition to a new practice area.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE!
Whether you’ve just begun your legal career or you’re an experienced attorney considering options at mid career, take the time to plan, the effort you invest into carefully managing your legal career will pay valuable dividends.