December 1, 2021
How to Take Control of Your Legal Career at Every Stage
The past two years have brought about tremendous change, leaving many to reconsider their career path. Four million Americans quit their jobs in July of 2021 in search of new opportunities. While the “Great Resignation” is bringing about uncertainty, it is also empowering employees to take career risks, find the role that is best for them, and follow the road less traveled.
If you are a legal professional who’s feeling inspired to explore a different specialty in law, move to a different firm, or climb the ladder and aim for partnership, it’s important to identify where you are in your career journey to examine what types of changes would be best. Read on for tips you can use to take control of your career at every stage along the way.
Stage 1: Newly Minted Legal Professional
Years of experience: 1-5
As a new lawyer, you might be eager, enthusiastic, and maybe a little apprehensive. During these first few years, your main goal should be to learn as much as possible. Nervous about your lack of professional know-how? Don’t be. In this beginning phase of your career, it’s completely normal to not be well versed in the inner workings of a legal career. While you get acclimated, you’ll likely be doing more listening than talking in meetings and taking a copious number of notes.
Take Control: Don’t be afraid to ask questions! The faster you learn, the faster you’ll take on more responsibility. Seek out mentors and align yourself with professionals who can guide you while you learn the ropes. Keep in mind that the average person changes jobs 12 times during their career. If you’re not gaining the experience you want or need, consider taking on temporary assignments. Temp legal roles are not what they used to be and can give you valuable experience in different roles and firms. These roles often lead to full time opportunities, so it’s also a great way to take a potential employer for a “test drive.”
Stage 2: Sophomore Stride
Years of experience: 6-10
It’s time to put what you’ve learned to the test. You have more responsibilities, and your colleagues are starting to recognize your talents. In this stage, it’s important to step up to challenges and prove your worth. When someone asks if there is another lawyer who can lend a hand on a particularly tough case, volunteer! Speak up, put yourself out there, and take risks.
Take Control: Don’t wait for colleagues to approach you with new opportunities. If you’re feeling ready to take on more responsibility, ask for it! Showing initiative will make you stand out to colleagues and bosses. Remember to advocate for yourself, not just when taking on more responsibility, but also for taking time off when it’s needed. Continue to leverage a mentor’s advice and experience as you navigate this stage of your career path. And if it’s been a long time (after graduation?) since you updated your resume, now’s a great time to add all the experience you’ve gained the past several years.
Stage 3: Generalist or Specialist?
Years of experience: 11-15
You’ve learned the ropes and feel settled as a legal professional. Now, it’s time to ask yourself: do I want to specialize?
Some lawyers are wary of specializing because they’re afraid they could lose out on future business by limiting themselves to one focus. On the other hand, specialization can be a great choice if you find yourself particularly fascinated by one area of law. Specialization also sets you apart from other attorneys, which could pave the way for further success and help you market yourself more easily.
While the choice to specialize is up to you, most lawyers do find themselves settling into a specialty at some point in their career. Use the first two stages of your career to figure out what fascinates you, and then see if it’s time to specialize in it.
Take Control: If you do decide to specialize, you may require additional education or certifications. Before you jump in with both feet, consider taking on temp assignments in specialized fields to see what it’s really like, and then decide which is right for you. Now is also a great time to practice your negotiation skills so that you’re ready when you do find the perfect specialized role.
Stage 4: Seasoned Professional
Years of experience: 16-20
You’ve gained valuable experience over the years and are likely someone else’s go-to person for an expert point of view. With your background and expertise, you can bring a unique perspective to your field. You might make the hiring decisions at your firm and find yourself mentoring younger professionals.
Take Control: While you’re more comfortable and confident in your career at this stage, you might also find yourself at a crossroads. Personal and professional timelines don’t always align: If you’ve focused solely on your career up until this point, you may want to take a step back to focus on family or personal goals. Or you might be thinking about starting your own firm.
Either way, you’ll need some flexibility to reach your goals. Taking on temp assignments is a great way to choose where and when you spend your time. And if you’re going the entrepreneurial route, taking temp jobs can help you earn income while you build up your own book of business. Whatever path you choose to follow, flexible sources of income can help you meet your personal and professional goals.
Stage 5: Stay Golden
Years of experience: 21+
Now that you’ve reached the pinnacle of your legal career, what’s next? Some professionals think about retirement and giving back. Others still find themselves searching for more. Sound familiar? Perhaps it’s time to challenge yourself to learn a new specialty. You might also want to cut back on work hours to spend more time with family and friends and pursue personal hobbies.
Take Control: Decide what work life balance looks like to you and begin taking steps to get there. Perhaps you’d like to serve as a consultant or mentor to your long-time firm or make an impact on multiple firms. Consider joining a network of legal professionals that law firms can turn to for project-based work. Interested in giving back? Become a mentor to new legal professionals or consider taking on pro bono work for a charitable organization you support.
Whether you’re in the early stages of your career, or are a veteran legal professional, it’s never too late to take control of your career. Learn how JurisTemps can help you realize your career goals.