The coronavirus lockdown has had huge knock-on effects on our society, and the legal sector is no exception. For some law firms, it may be practically business as usual – albeit with all work being carried out remotely. Others have not been so lucky and might have had to furlough employees.
If you are a lawyer working from home, the current situation means you will have extra time each day that otherwise would have been spent commuting to and from work. If you were unfortunate enough to have been furloughed, you will now have more time at your disposal.
The question is, how could you be spending this additional time to enhance your career both now and in the future? Rather than something negative, how about seeing this time as a one in a lifetime opportunity? Here are our thoughts about how you can use this time to forge your legal career path.
Your Career is Your Responsibility
Many solicitors go through their entire legal careers believing that it is the responsibility of their firm to train and equip them with the skills they need to achieve their potential. This is incorrect. The reality is that you are completely responsible for your own development and ensuring that you are the best lawyer you can be – even if it may mean spending your own money.
It’s important to understand that what you want and need and what your firm wants and needs are not the same thing. You want to acquire and develop the range of skills that will help you reach your potential in business development and client care – in addition to being a better lawyer who is up to date on current developments in your field. Some of this is for the longer term. Your firm is much more interested in you being more productive right now and is less inclined to invest in your broader development over a longer period of time.
There is always tension here, although it can be more or less acute depending on which firm you are with and what stage of your career you are currently at.
Your law firm will train and develop you until the point where you’re at peak performance to suit their needs – and then no further. If you want to push on from this, then you’re on your own. The sooner you realise this, the more time you will have to prepare for the inevitable eventuality that your ambitions outgrow the firm’s basic requirements. Of course, you now have lots of extra time to do this while you’re on lockdown.
Start With a Plan
Once you understand that your entire legal career path is your own responsibility, the next thing you need to work out is exactly what you want out of your career in the first place. It may seem surprising, but a large proportion of lawyers do not really think through what they want beyond the short term and do not build a plan.
Because of this, the first thing you should do with all this extra time is to work out exactly what you want out of your career and how you’re going to achieve it. Think about what you want to have achieved over the next one year, three years, five years and ten years. If your ambition is to make Partner, decide on the steps you’ll need to take to reach it, what the points are along the way and when you need to hit them in order to make Partner in the time scale you want.
The last point you should understand about your career plan is that it should never end, even when you reach your identified goal. Let’s say that your ambition was to make Partner – what would you want to achieve after that? If you stop setting goals, you are more likely to become directionless and make poor decisions.
Analyse Your Current Situation
The first thing you need to do when forging your legal career path is to identify your starting point – i.e where you are now. You may find this is easier now you’re out of the hustle and bustle of the office environment and on lockdown – as this might give you a bit more freedom to think.
Take a long look at where you currently are in your career and the firm you’re working for. You need to work out whether you are happy with your situation and what you want to improve. Here are a few things to consider:
- Career Progression: Have you already reached the point where your ambitions outmatch the basic requirements of the law firm? Do you believe they can offer you the progression you want or will you need to move elsewhere?
- Corporate Culture: Are you happy with the culture of your current firm or do you think you may be trapped in a toxic environment?
- What You Need to be Happy: Are you satisfied with where you are in your career? If not, what will make you happy? While the first thought may be money, you may find that other things will be just as important.
Once you have identified where you are in your career, it will be easier to understand where you want to go next and, more importantly, the actions you should take to get there.
Expand Your Horizons
Now you’ve reached arguably the most important part of forging your legal career path. By now, you will have already planned out what you want to achieve and analysed your current situation to understand whether you’re satisfied and what you need to make you happier.
The final thing to do is get yourself in the best possible position to achieve your goals. Here are what we believe are the three most important aspects you should work on:
Build Your Personal Skill Set
It’s essential that you are willing to commit your own time and money into developing yourself and your skills. Doing this enables you to build a better future.
When it comes to the learning, training and development that you need to further your career, the first port of call is the internet to see what you can get for free. And the answer will be “quite a lot”. Once you find something you have to pay for, you should first ask your law firm to pay for it. However, if the answer is a resounding ‘no’, don’t just accept that you won’t get to do the course – pay for it yourself.
Remember that your law firm wants you to be dependent on them, so you can add more value to the company. You should want to be totally independent, to become valuable to any organisation in any environment.
So what should you be looking to spend your time on and what skills do you need to develop? They broadly fall into two groups:
- Sales, Marketing and Client Management
- Leadership and Management
These are the two key areas which all senior lawyers need and which firms neglect to properly train and develop.
Build Your Personal Brand
If you want to build a career, then you need to build your personal brand. It is your ability to be seen as a go-to lawyer in your field that will determine how easy it is to build a practice and how quickly you can progress to and through Partnership. Social media, especially LinkedIn, can help you do just that.
Using LinkedIn wisely will help build your profile and portray you as a thought-leader in your market. On top of this, it is instrumental in creating a network of contacts that could be extremely useful in the future. While some may end up as clients, others could be advocates that share your every post. You may also attract the attention of other law firms.
The most important thing to remember when using LinkedIn and social media in general is that you have to use it in a style that fits you. If your online persona is not authentic, you’ll probably find that people will have a hard time buying into what you have to say. Stay true to yourself, however, and it will be a lot easier for your followers and network to trust you – which may bring in lots of new opportunities further down the line.
Once you have all the necessary skills in place, harness your online and offline reputations to build a brand that is centred around you. You need to become a strong individual that transcends the firm you’re currently with and build a network and law practice that is wholly, or at least partially, portable.
Having your own recognised brand is also essential for inspiring trust – both in your work and you as a lawyer. Clients will want to come to you, not because of the firm you work for, but because you’re you and they trust you to handle their issues. The same is true even if the client knows you’re going to pass the case onto one of your subordinates, rather than work in it yourself – as they trust you to make the right judgement on who to delegate the task to and are safe in the knowledge that you will be overseeing everything.
Remember that your practice determines your value, so you need to work extremely hard to build a brand that works for you.
Research the Market
Take the time to read up on and understand the legal market. If you can enhance your knowledge on a particular subject, then you will immediately increase your chances of furthering your career. The aim is to become the go-to person for answers.
The thing you need most from your clients and colleagues is trust. If you build yourself a reputation as somebody people can trust about a particular area of law, then it will be you that your colleagues send their clients to.
If you are able to totally satisfy these clients’ needs, then they will automatically trust you and come back to you should they face a similar situation in the future. They will also be more likely to recommend you to people they know, potentially getting you even more exposure.
Becoming recognised as an expert in your field, especially a niche area, is a fantastic way to enhance your career prospects. Being the person everybody looks to for advice and to look after their clients will make you extremely valuable to your current law firm and potentially to other businesses as well.
Get the Right Support
While it’s true that you will have to put in an awful lot of effort into furthering your legal career, the good news is you don’t always have to go through it alone. There are companies out there that can offer you expert advice and support.
If you’re thinking that you’ve already outgrown your law firm and are in need of a new challenge, or you could do with some guidance on building a business case to make Partner – a specialist legal recruiter, such as Jepson Holt, can help. We have extensive knowledge of the legal market and are committed to understanding your individual career goals and finding the right legal position for you.
At Jepson Holt, we know first-hand what it takes to make Partner, so if that is your ambition, we are perfectly placed to help. We will review your business plan and provide essential advice so you can make the best possible case for yourself. We have also created an informative eBook entitled: “Taking Control of Your Legal Career”, which is designed to give you all the information you need to help you build a successful and rewarding career – plus the actions you need to take.
If getting the most out of social media and building your personal brand is your number one priority, you can rely on our marketing partner Strawberry Forge to help. They are the experts when it comes to digital marketing and have a wealth of information on how to make the most of your online presence. Their ‘speak’ package is tailor-made to get you noticed on LinkedIn and build your brand as well as an appealing LinkedIn profile to enhance your reputation. Visit www.strawberryforge.com for more information.
With the right support and a lot of effort on your behalf, you can use the extra time you have during lockdown to invest in your legal career. This will enable you to unlock your true potential and achieve whatever goals you set for yourself.