This post speaks to the “let life happen” piece while you continue to cover all your bases and position yourself for maximum opportunities throughout your legal career. This material will be presented in two parts (so a total of three posts on the whole subject).
No matter how rigorous you have planned, life may bring you an opportunity you have not considered. This post will help by providing three questions to ask when considering any opportunity, including ones that may be initially perceived as undesirable or at least not as good as your original plan.
Take the following example. You follow the advice in part one and plan to practice transactional tax at a big law firm. Unfortunately, however, the only opportunities that come your way are positions with the Department of Labor (working on ERISA/tax matters) or with a State tax agency. Should you give up on your dream of working for big law? What questions can you ask to help make a reasonable decision? In general, it will be helpful if you choose a place with pleasant people, where you will have lots of responsibility working on high quality projects (that could translate to another legal employer), and where you have plenty of opportunities to speak, write, and grow as a lawyer.
LegalJob recently participated on a jobs panel where there was a healthy debate about whether law students and associates should plan as much as possible by focusing on only one type of law practice and further, a niche within that practice area. The argument against planning everything out is that you cannot control life no matter how hard your plan. That is true. Also, the dissenters worried that if you over plan you may risk taking yourself out of the running for an opportunity in a practice area you may enjoy (but have not previously explored) or with an amazing legal employer you never considered. Sure that could happen but this point does not seem to be a strong enough argument against planning.
So, LegalJob thinks it is advisable to do both. As discussed in Making Partner, position to the extent possible and then be open to all possibilities that come to you, including opportunities off-plan. Positioning yourself means taking as much action as possible for you to be able to soundly demonstrate to a future employer your ability to focus and high level of commitment to your practice area.
This post (part one) discusses the positioning piece. A second post (part two) will discuss ways you can be flexible to keep doors open. Consider these positioning steps:
We have previously posted about the importance of securing a mentor and a sponsor and this advice is also emphasized in Making Partner.
Check out this article for tips for finding a mentor and a sponsor.
As a refresher, a sponsor is generally an elder statesman/stateswoman who is in management or other position of influence when it comes time to fight for you — annual raises, bonuses, leadership positions for you at the firm, work opportunities, consideration for partnership, etc. Having an effective sponsor is so crucial that if LegalJob could only offer two pieces of advice to associates, they would be to do excellent work and secure a sponsor early.
The concept of understanding the problem you are trying to solve may be one of the most important keys to being an effective lawyer. To wit, this blog has a number of posts that cover this issue in the context of providing advice for meeting expectations of law firm partners as does the book Making Partner.
As discussed throughout this blog and in Making Partner, the best plan for law students to secure any job is to pick a major early, take classes in that area and do well, and gain some substantive work experience in the area. For those that have not planned ahead, consider these five steps.
1) Do some research to find out what agencies are hiring.
- Talk to professors, career services folks, lawyers
- Regulatory areas are generally good as demand is up.
- Consider these active areas: Immigration, Environmental, Tax, IP, Health law, Elderly law, Financial services (Dodd/Frank)
Consider the following tips when seeking that next (or the first) legal job.
The first post on this topic discussed the step of seeking specific feedback regularly. This post discusses taking immediate action and following up.
- Take immediate action
As discussed in Making Partner, three keys to success in any legal job are to seek specific feedback on a regular basis, take immediate action to improve in the areas identified, and follow up with details of your progress. The first step is discussed below and the second two steps will be discussed in the next post.
- Seek specific feedback regularly
- Request at least one or two meetings in between scheduled reviews with the partners with whom you are working.
- Solicit opinions about how you are doing and what areas could use improvement.
- Prepare ahead by sending the partner specific questions you have.
- It may be helpful to take questions directly off an evaluation form the firm uses to measure attorney progress. Read More…
LegalJob and Making Partner followers always ask if there is a way to prioritize (and perhaps shorten the list of) all the helpful advice provided concerning how to be successful at a big law firm.
This post is an attempt to do that. Here are three big picture thoughts for thriving at a top firm:
1) Be firm centric. Try to think in terms of how what you are doing could benefit the firm. You may ultimately decide not to do it that way but at least you have given it some thought. A couple of examples: Read More…