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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 9, 2020
Question

I recently achieved my goal of being a General Counsel. Is having a career strategy still important?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Goals. They fill a professional career with motivation, growth, direction, fulfillment…and success. Lawyers are notoriously goal-oriented creatures. Often with laser focus on achievement and the status that goes with it. But when the career biggies are achieved (General Counsel, Law firm partner, VP, Chief of This, Head of That, Boss Lady, Boss Man), many lawyers put their feet up on their desks, kick back and enjoy the view. Ceasing any meaningful effort on a continued career strategy.

So in today’s Darwinian legal market, even the most accomplished lawyers are getting caught flat-footed and finding themselves in migraine inducing career predicaments. Why? Because in this new and rapidly changing world, only the evolved survive. And evolution is a constant process of change. It doesn’t stop with a title or company size or big book of business. It never stops. Or rather, it never should stop. So regardless of your rank, a career strategy will always be a critical part of continuing success.

Reaching your big career milestone is truly a great accomplishment in this highly competitive profession. So take a little time if you haven’t already, and celebrate. But after the bubbly, it will be time to get back to work to create a fresh career strategy and next set of goals. In today’s legal profession, it’s almost guaranteed that you will not be in your current role for the rest of your career. So despite your current status, you’ll need to remain competitive for the future. Can it be tedious? Yes. A pain? Absolutely. But it’s a must if you are to preserve your marketability for your next move. So, where to start?

Educate Yourself.

The first place to start is to put your finger on the pulse of market and understand it as it exists today and as it relates to your profile: what skills are valued now…and potentially in the future. Know the emerging industries, hot practice areas, cutting edge legal issues facing companies, the requirements of in house lawyers today and the backgrounds of successful legal executives. What are execs looking for when hiring their legal executives? Are there any trends? Who are the connected and powerful professionals to add to your network? A few resources for such market information include: Good recruiters, your network, VCs, professional organizations, colleagues, blogs, and online publications.

Take Inventory.

Use the information derived from your research above as well as your own self-awareness and take inventory of the areas you need to improve or develop. For example, are you light in Compliance? Privacy? IP lit management? Regulatory? Should you diversify your industry experience? Do you want/need to manage a bigger team? Roll up your sleeves more? Get more connected to business? Gain additional knowledge about your own industry? Do you have goals for your legal department as a whole? There are also the “softer” skills to consider like management, corporate citizenship and building your reputation with company execs and the board. Any lingering deficiencies or underdeveloped areas could compromise aspects of your reputation or future marketability

The Happiness Factor.

To my knowledge, no one has ever reached a state of Nirvana in his/her job. So think about what factors would enhance your overall happiness and work them in as part of your goals and career strategy. Perhaps you’d like to take on more business responsibilities, work less, mentor young lawyers, participate on panels, get on boards, non-profit involvement etc.

A meaningful goal achieved is not the end of the road, but the beginning of a new road towards new goals. And no matter who we are, what we do or how important we become, there is always room to learn, grow and evolve as a professional. So stay proactive about this aspect of your career and look deeper than the title. What you’ll discover is that there are many more mountaintops to conquer.

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