Here are some other tips and tricks that you or your team might like to consider.
Succeed at your current role
You can dream of your future prospects but being successful in your current role is the often overlooked base on which to build.
This starts with identifying what is essential to your role and how best to fulfill that. Talk to your manager and understand what will set you apart – take responsibility and deliver more than is expected.
Don’t assume that the most time consuming things or the things you automatically presume to be the most important actually are.
Ensure that you have SMART targets and deliverables. This means that each target should be:
- Attainable / achievable
- Time bound
Approach each day, week and month with a plan. Reassess your own progress against your plans and SMART targets. This will help you stay on track, stay motivated and also have a compelling discussion basis for your appraisals.
Build your network
Networking is an important skill for all lawyers and not just for career progression. Building an effective network can deliver business needs and bring in new clients, as well as open up new career opportunities.
There are a number of networking groups open to in-house lawyers including groups at The Law Society (such as Junior lawyers) as well as external groups such as City Parents, Women in the Law, Women in Law London, Aspire and many more.
In terms of work life balance, consider how work is allocated to ensure that it is fairly distributed and the work doesn’t keep falling on the same people to do. Technology can be a great tool generally to make work more efficient, but it also needs to work properly, so investing in proper IT and equipment support can be an easy way of contributing to workplace wellbeing. The value of the photocopier actually working is incalculable.
The billable hour and targets are a source of stress to many lawyers, and Jana Cohen Barbe, a senior partner at Dentons, has also argued that law firms must change not only the structure of the billable hour, but also the way performance metrics are evaluated to make a difference in the mental health crisis that the legal profession is currently facing.
Groups will put on events including talks and seminars. It is well worth putting aside time to attend events, talk to people you don’t know and exchange details.
To make the most of networking, keep a record of the people you meet and put effort into maintaining relationships even if that is just periodically dropping an email to contacts to see how they are.
Likewise, build and maintain your online networking presence and profile, for example using LinkedIn. Most recruiters will check your LinkedIn profile before an interview and many new roles and requests come through LinkedIn.
Accept requests from people you have met or people that might be useful to your future career and make requests to follow people you have met in person at networking or other business events. To increase engagement you can add interesting content to your profile and share it.
Try out coaching
A coach is different to a mentor or a sponsor. A coach might be through an internal coaching scheme, or external, but their role is to help you work out your career plan and direction, and then assist you in planning out the individual steps that you can take to reach each stage of the plan.
A coach can help you stay motivated, focussed on what you have identified as important to your career and provides a method through which you are accountable to your goals.
Seek out a mentor
A mentor on the other hand is a more knowledgeable person who is further down (or up, depending on how you see it) your career path than you are. They may be found internally, although they are not usually your direct manager, or could be through an external scheme such as The Law Society, City Parents or other groups which specialise in developing lawyers careers. The role of the mentor is to give advice to develop the person being mentored.
The Law Society says “solicitors in under-represented groups can feel isolated if there is no-one like them at senior level in their firm or organisation or if there are no visible role models” – finding a mentor through a mentorship scheme can help you be providing a tangible person who has been there before.
Find a sponsor
The third person to add to your career planning list is a sponsor. A sponsor is traditionally someone higher up in your industry, usually within your organisation, who will advocate for you.
They will usually be in a senior position and have an interest in your success – they may put your forward for projects, or roles, or invite you to events and meetings that will increase your visibility.
A sponsor can be the most elusive to find of the three roles, particularly as you can hire a coach and a mentor, but a sponsor needs to be a symbiotic and natural relationship. Develop internal relationships by attending events both social and interest based, not forgetting that most underrated of skills – actually talking to people in the office.
Continuous learning – not just CPD but skills
Despite formal CPD requirements now no longer applying, CPD and other related skills are still vital. The role of the in-house lawyer is always evolving and it is essential that you keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date.
You must regularly update and add to your skill set. In-house lawyers more than ever need business skills, advisory skills, be able to negotiate and persuade, be responsive and be solutions orientated. These skills may not come naturally. Find ways to stay curious, gain feedback, practise and where possible attend courses and workshops to understand how others approach similar situations.
Identify your next role
Keep in mind what your next role might be and what you need to do to get there. Do you have a time-frame in mind?
Don’t be afraid of discussing this with your manager and working out with them what you need to do. Identify gaps, particularly in leadership or management skills, and work out how you can address these in your current role.
A good manager will see this as a positive attribute.
Be prepared – keep your CV up-to-date
As you never know when an opportunity might present itself, make sure that you are prepared. Ensure that you have thought about your CV – if you know that it is a weakness take steps when you are not under pressure to seek feedback and ensure it presents you in the best light. And then keep it updated.