Over the course of your legal career, you should be aware of career paths available to you and have a general sense of what your current opportunity can offer. Does the opportunity fulfill one or part of your career objectives? The career ladder has collapsed and been replaced by the career lattice or if you prefer, “jungle gym”. So how do you navigate?
A large portion of long-term career happiness is based on advancement, challenges, and goal attainment. The potential for career advancement is a significant motivator. Your actions, decisions and performance will help you achieve those goals.
So, how do you know if you are on the right track or need to re-evaluate? How can you assess your own potential for growth and advancement efforts?
Taking the time to explore these questions has twofold results; we are continuously asked to assess lawyer potential or “runway” and your career satisfaction increases by both having you co-navigate your career and achieving higher career satisfaction when meeting your career objectives.
Let’s begin by segmenting the process.
Career values. Are you willing to commit the time, step up and accept extra work, or seek out new challenges? Are you energized by the work you are doing? You will need motivation and energy to step up to take the risks and possibly additional assignments. So, where might you find the motivation?
An understanding of your productivity and career values will help you analyze where you are today and where you need to focus your efforts. Are there productivity efficiencies that you may want to consider? Are there tasks that can be delegated to others? Are you leveraging technology to its potential? The analysis may also identify sources of motivation and energy and increase your performance.
Do your values align with the company’s mission? Do the combined values (you, the organization and the legal team) synergistically energize you? Can you articulate your professional values? Clarifying and aligning goals can be tremendous sources of energy.
Team player. Do you support your co-workers when they need it or can you work in parallel on legal processes such as setting strategies or negotiating and closing transactions? Being a team player will not only improve your reputation but also add value to the legal team whether in-house or with a law firm. In this changing world of work, the legal profession can be seen as a series of legal projects many of which will require teamwork. Understanding the value of teamwork will accelerate your success.
Leadership Opportunities. Volunteering to take on additional responsibilities or special assignments and joining special projects teams elevates your exposure to others of influence. By participating in the opportunities available, you can gain new competencies, areas of expertise, and challenges that reflect the leadership and motivation needed for advancement.
We quite often are asked to assess lawyers’ runway or longer-term potential. Completing a self-assessment in these areas will prepare you to speak to your career runway AND have you navigating your career as opposed to being led by the organization or law firm.
Here are a few more tips to build on your potential for advancement:
- Build a strong personal brand. Have positive examples of what you have accomplished at the ready when talking with co-workers, managers or others of influence in the organization. Choose accomplishments that will demonstrate subject matter depth or breadth, risk taking, new areas of development or other targeted areas that will advance your career.
- Create achievement notes. Start a list of achievements that include what you did and why it was important. Keep this as a reminder before a performance review too.
- Network. Yes, meet with people (virtually), and let them know about your performance and or accomplishments. Inquire about projects that may be in the pipeline and who the decision makers might be. You may be able to use your network to both identify and volunteer to participate.
- Keeping your resume updated keeps your accomplishments top of mind and sometimes builds confidence. Knowing that you are prepared may diminish one anxiety factor- a little.
- Accept recognition. Try a “thank you” instead of no acknowledgement. Gratitude and acceptance in the right proportion can be assets to advancing or being invited into the next project.
What do you want your future to be and what advancement is possible for you inside and possibly outside your organization? Build your career portfolio, and embrace new challenges that present themselves with a positive mindset, asking what might this project or opportunity add to my body of work? After assessing your successes, defining where and how you may want to grow, you may want to ask, are you on the right path? Can you demonstrate your potential or runway to achieve your career goals?