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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Does Your Career Plan Work for You?

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Career Plan“Career Plan” sounds like one of those pieces of paper (much like a “marketing plan”) which is produced with a mammoth amount of effort, cost and time.  We dwell on it for hours, days or weeks and we ultimately produce a beautifully polished and wonderful document which sets out our hopes, dreams and desires for the coming 12 months, 5 years, 10 years or whatever.

And then we never look at it again.

That is NOT what I’m talking about in this article.

So What Are We Talking About?

What I’m talking about here is a REAL plan.  One from which you can get inspiration, encouragement, information.  It’s a plan that provides you with an opportunity to reflect on what you really want from your legal career, not just a piece of paper where you have written down the things that you think you SHOULD write down.

Here’s a rubbish plan in dot point form:

  • graduate
  • get admitted as a lawyer
  • work hard
  • get promoted
  • make partner
  • retire.

These kinds plans make me feel sick inside.  Why?  Because they offer nothing to the writer of the plan.  It’s like mapping out your path towards death in a boring and meaningless way.

David Maister in True Professionalism puts it this way:

Success comes from doing what you enjoy.  If you don’t enjoy it, how can it be called success?

So How to Prepare a Better Career Plan

A plan can look like whatever you want.  The real benefit in making a career plan (which doesn’t necessarily involve writing it down), however, is the process you go through to identify to yourself what it will take you make you enjoy your career.

I see so many junior lawyers who simply cannot grasp this.  Asked what they want, they talk about promotions, making money, working hard and a bunch of tripe that makes a legal career seem like the most boring thing in the universe.  What they can’t do, and have never been asked to do, is to actually define what success looks like, and visualise the specifics.

So I have said what you shouldn’t do.  Now let’s look at what you should do.

Ignore Your Strengths, but Identify your Passion

I’ve talked about passion before.  Passion for a legal career is one of those critical elements which differentiates the good from the bad, the persuasive from the not, and the successful from the mediocre.  Passion gives you the drive to get up each day and hit the ground running.  Passion keeps you going through the tough days.

So what are you passionate about?  Don’t gloss over this question with some nonsense answer.  What is it that makes your blood pump.  What gets you out of bed?

This isn’t a question of what you’re good at.  It’s a question of what you’re excited about!  Make sure you don’t confuse the two.

Now write it down.  Does it look right?  Wrong?  Fix it if you need to, but don’t skip this step, because it informs the rest of the process.

Now Answer Some Questions – Honestly

This is not a chance to read your firm’s policy about promotions.  These questions are a chance to feed your passion that you just identified.  Make sure you answer them in that context.

  • What do you want to do next?
  • What about in 3 years?  What would you like to be doing then?
  • Are you planning on having clients in three years?  If so – what do they look like?  Are they business (small or large)?  Do they work in a particular industry?  Are they individuals, homeless people, governments?
  • With those clients in mind, what kind of work are you doing in three years?
  • What is the next most exciting challenge you’re going to face in your career?

I’ll say it again – IGNORE YOUR FIRM when answering these questions.  They are personal questions, not corporate ones.

The questions themselves are not that important – they serve a function, however – they exist to help you identify what it is that you really want to achieve in the coming years of your career.  When answering them in the context of your passion identified earlier, you are ensuring that they questions are all targeting the goal of a professional career that feeds your enthusiasm, not one that dampens it.

Look Back to Look Forward

Having trouble?  Why not think back to recent history and identify some things that most made you excited to be a lawyer.  Those are going to be a good start when it comes to finding your “sweat spot” in legal practice.

Have a look at recent clients, recent jobs, recent advices, and interactions and identify those which gave you the most satisfaction, positivity, and energy.

Is there a theme?  What common elements do they have?

Don’t Ignore the People

As I’ve said a few times now – legal practice is about other people.  Don’t skip the parts where you are trying to identify your preferred clients.  As I’ve written about this before I’ll just highlight it here as a critical part of your career plan.

Having trouble identifying your preferred client?  Think of it this way:  if you had to pick a category of person who admired you, who would it be?  In whose eyes do you want prestige and acknowledgement?  That’s often a good place to start.

Three Years?

Three years is a good number.  It’s neither too far ahead nor unrealistically soon.

Careers change, as do people.  What you used to find exciting you may now not.  If so, that’s because you have outgrown your present situation.

Much of the dissatisfaction in legal careers come from lawyers having outgrown their current position, but not identifying it and not doing anything about it.

So don’t get caught up on the ultimate end goal here with a 15 year plan – just focus on what you want to do NEXT.

So How’s it Look?

Notice we haven’t written much down?  What we’ve done is to work through a process of helping you identify your preferred role.  It’s the role that gives you admiration from the people you want.  It gives you the satisfaction that you’re after, the energisation that you want in the day.

To me, the most successful lawyers are those that love their jobs.

Want some help?  Tell me what you’re thinking in the comments, and I’ll lend a hand.

Happy Lawyering!


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  • Excellent post. Agreed that people have goals such as “I want to make more money” but don’t visualize the specifics as you mention. I had a talk with an attorney the other day, who like to pick his kids up from school each day, who wanted to grow his firm. I then explained to him how a certain level of growth could mean that he wouldn’t be able to pick the kids up each day anymore. It was really clear that it was something he hadn’t considered.

  • Really good point when you mention that many want to make more money but don’t realize what the type of practice looks like. These types of choices/trade offs are something that need to be explained in law school but aren’t.

  • Really good point when you mention that many want to make more money but don’t realize what the type of practice looks like. These types of choices/trade offs are something that need to be explained in law school but aren’t.

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