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I appreciate a nice, tidy “to-do” list — and how moving through the list can offer clarity of purpose, digestible milestones and a sense of accomplishment. But when it comes to mapping out their career paths, lawyers can find a to-do list is tough to create. There are, though, a few core components that are must-haves on the professional investment front. While these five are hardly novel in and of themselves, too often lawyers neglect them.
1. Leverage technology. Technology has moved from a “nice to have” part of the attorney toolkit to a need-to-have for value and differentiation. If you aren’t up to speed on how to use technology to your advantage, at best you’re lagging behind — and at worst, being left completely behind. It’s an arms race, plain and simple. For those who aren’t convinced, D. Casey Flaherty is on a mission to move you along the learning curve. His initial battle cry of value, influenced heavily by basic technical proficiency, is taking form as he works with Suffolk University to create a tool that allows in-house counsel to test associate proficiency with basic Microsoft Office programs — and this just to make sure the “floor” is where it should be, as we all see the ceiling being raised daily.
2. Get regular (and honest) assessments. Whether you seek a path to partnership, an in-house move or greater career stability in any role, the element of surprise can work against you. Annual reviews have real limits, including their frequency (or rather, infrequency), the formality of the process and the weight of the consequences. Actively inviting feedback on a regular and informal basis will help you assess your strengths and understand how you are viewed by those above and around you. What is your brand as an attorney? You have one, whether you created one deliberately or not, and you need to understand where you are today so you can bolster the skills and qualities that will set you on the path you seek.
3. Master networking. It’s true — lawyers with the deepest and broadest networks will find themselves well-positioned for success in their current roles and in their long-term career trajectory. Successful networking hinges on never losing sight of the fact that you need to give in order to receive, so let the principle of doing without expectation guide your networking efforts. Build relationships grounded in knowledge, genuine interest and mutual assistance in achieving goals. Set weekly networking goals that go well beyond association events, measure your progress and commit to growing your network across and outside of your area of specialization.
4. Know your numbers. Yes, pricing models are evolving. But whether the hourly billing model is at risk or not, the fact remains that you need to understand the value you deliver. Utilization and billable hours are obvious measures, but they’re just the starting point. What exactly is the value associated with your rate and, more importantly, do you know your realization numbers and bottom-line profitability? Can they be improved, and how? Dig down and find out.
5. Learn to make rain. Even if you have a deep-seated resistance to selling, learn to set it aside and embrace the freedom and options that come when you can build a book of business. Start early and practice often because that combination will leave you best-positioned down the road. Polish your public speaking skills and cut your teeth on smaller, less visible events or webinars. Serve on panels or moderate a panel until you’re ready to hold the stage alone. Get out there, early and often, and learn to connect, convey and ultimately inspire.
Laney Altamar is Senior Vice President, Business Development and Executive Placement at TRU Staffing Partners. Laney has been on the front lines of the legal staffing industry for over 16 years and continues to revel in the opportunity to play an active role in the industry’s evolution.
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