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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

January 13, 2017

Top 10 Goals for a Killer Career in 2017

Julie Q. Brush

It’s that time of year again folks: The New Year. It seems like yesterday we toasted to a promising 2016 along with our list of personal refinements…otherwise known as “resolutions.” And this month over half the population on earth will repeat and rinse as the reality of another new year sinks in.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. The exercise often creates unrealistic expectations, false hopes and a high failure rate (over 90%) resulting in lower self-esteem and disappointment. Yet at the beginning of each New Year, millions of individuals continue to press the proverbial reset button hoping that their intent will facilitate success. For lawyers, career tends to be the nucleus of resolutions, but many lack the clarity to know what to strive for or how to get there – and the endeavor is often futile.

So as the curtain opens on 2017, instead of proclaiming another “resolution” for change, use The Lawyer Whisperer 2017 Career Goals Checklist for results and greater career satisfaction:

Get To Know You.

Many people go through life never really knowing what makes them truly happy or never understanding why they’re not happy. But in order to be happy and achieve what you want in 2017, you must know the lay of the internal land. A good initial step is to contemplate the following questions and answer them on a piece of paper or your computer:

  • Does my job align with my core values?
  • Am I happy in my current role? Why or why not?
  • What do I like about my job, culture, employer?
  • What don’t I like? With the things I don’t like, how/can I fix them?
  • What am I doing well in my job? Where do I want/need to improve?
  • How are my relationships with my colleagues? Can they be improved? If so, how?
  • What is my opportunity for advancement? In what way do I want to advance and how do I do it?
  • Am I satisfied with my compensation? Why/why not?
  • If I’m currently unemployed and want a new job, what specifically am I doing to maximize my options? What more can I do to achieve better results?
  • How do I want to develop professionally – in the workplace and out?
  • Do I have any regrets from last year or two? If so, what have I learned from them?
  • What are my fears?

Being self-aware will enable you to be more clear about what you want/need and feel more confident as you strive to achieve your professional goals in 2017.

Document Your Case For Career Advancement.

A new title, a raise, more direct reports, more responsibilities – If you aspire for advancement in 2017, it will require advocacy on your own behalf to make it happen. But lawyers are not adequately prepared when it comes time to make their case. The plethora of personal and professional responsibilities makes it difficult for even the strongest of minds to recall every accomplishment. So, starting January 1st memorialize what’s memorable about the Professional You. A few suggestions how: Keep a notepad at your desk and jot down notes/accomplishments as they occur. Create an Outlook file with email kudos from colleagues and clients. Dictate your accomplishments on your phone. Keep a notepad in your car and write down accomplishments before heading home. Of course you won’t use all of this material, but when it comes time to ask for more, you’ll have the key information available to make your case relevant and more effective.

Develop One New Important Skill.

Those who do not learn, develop and diversify are vulnerable to today’s Darwinian legal market forces. So this year, commit to develop one new important skill. Not four, not three, not two…one important skill. Why one? Because it’s doable. So what does that mean for today’s lawyers? It means learning a new substantive skill that is in high demand like privacy, compliance product or data security…or transactions experience, corporate securities/governance or open source that allow you to retool or advance your career goals. It could include softer skills such as becoming a stronger communicator, business developer or dealing with difficult people. Whatever it may be, take inventory of what skills your repertoire lacks and choose one on which to focus first. Then commit to gaining material knowledge of that skill, which also includes a game plan to accomplish the task.

Ask For What You Want.

It sounds so simple, yet it’s one of the most difficult things to do. Fear, entitlement, feelings of unworthiness, reliance on others and the belief that people read minds are the most common reasons professionals do not ask for what they want. But when you don’t ask…you don’t get. So the next time you want something…ask for it. If the thought makes you anxious, resentful or fearful, play out the worst-case scenario (which usually means the answer will be no). Playing out the worst outcomes in your mind mitigates the negative feelings and minimizes their power. Also remember – it’s how you ask that makes all the difference. So spend the time to create a great message of request and you’ll increase your chances at getting what you want. One “ask” per month or quarter is a great start.

Be a Higher Quality Professional.

No matter how finely tuned you are as a professional, there’s always room to raise your game. What can you do better? Respond to calls/emails, be on time for appointments, spend more care on your work, treat others with more respect, enforce boundaries, send thank yous, provide better service, be a team player and/or make a conscious effort to help others. Becoming a better professional will have a profound effect on your relationships and your career – and you’ll see a difference immediately. Promise.

Say “No” More Often.

We all could use a little more “no” in our lives. Women in particular have historically struggled with the word and all of its complexities. Its lack of incorporation can seriously undermine a career by creating a professional who is oversubscribed, stressed, and resentful. It can also affect our moods and how we relate and interact with others. So in 2017, say “no” more often – and set reasonable goals and stick to them: once a week, twice a month etc. For those who have fear and anxiety about saying no, a few suggestions to make it easier: (1) offer an alternative; (2) maintain a positive and genuine tone; and (3) don’t be afraid to be honest.

Leave Your Job.

Way easier said than done, I know. But if you are miserable in your current job, 2017 is the year for you to take control of your career. Life is too short to be stuck in reverse another year. The employment market is active so it’s a good time to begin a new chapter. To start, be clear about what you want…and don’t want. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile, speak with an expert and create a plan. Leverage your network, apply on-line and proactively reach out to potential employers. Set micro goals and create momentum by getting in the game and going after what you want. Finding a new job won’t happen overnight so manage your expectations to remain resilient and motivated.


We live in a world of truncated communication where tweets and their brethren have usurped the art of writing that defined communication many moons ago. This has facilitated a culture of less thoughtful and more impulsive communication. But “words are loaded pistols” (Sartre) and their use continues to be a critical factor in securing the outcomes we seek. Writing is one way to sharpen our minds on our use of language and ability to create effective narratives, whether it’s for asking for a raise, negotiating compensation, providing a review or dealing with a difficult colleague etc. So dedicate this year to improve your writing by doing more of it: articles, blogs, poems, stories or a private journal are all terrific avenues to practice. And don’t forget to set writing goals to stay on track.

Do More To Benefit Others.

Our society is plagued by a hyper focus on “Me”. And with a legal profession in flux, lawyers are scrambling to get ahead with a “What’s in it for me?” mentality. But what many don’t get is that doing things to benefit others is one of the best ways to help yourself. So set a goal to help one professional in your network a week/month/quarter (you choose). Make an introduction, review a resume, provide a referral, lend an ear – whatever you can do to assist another. Not only will you feel good, you’ll enhance your reputation and build goodwill that will come back your way when you need it. 

Add Quality To Your Network.

Your network is worth its weight in gold. So it needs to be a priority in 2017 whether you’re happy in your job or not. Make a list of the people you’d like to add – people that can help move your career to the next level: GCs, CEOs, VCs, CFOs, COOs, law firm partners, reporters, recruiters etc. and set a weekly/monthly/quarterly goal to create meaningful connections (random LinkedIn requests don’t count!). Leverage your current network for introductions and strengthen bonds by helping others. Take inventory of your progress each month and recalibrate as needed. A great network pays dividends when a professional needs it most so make sure to keep yours replenished with the best and brightest.

The New Year allows us to see ourselves with a fresh set of eyes and aspire to be better. And for lawyers, career success is often at the top of the wish list. But aimless resolutions won’t provide the solution for real change. Relevant goals are needed. A roadmap for execution is needed. And a plan that transcends a calendar date is needed. The checklist above is not fleeting, but a lifelong approach. So make it part of your life on January 1st and you’ll be well on your way to achieve the career you seek…and happiness you deserve.

Here’s to a successful 2017!

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