Building a successful Law Career - Part 9
There are some things you can be doing that will position you for promotion, but many people don’t think of them.
Whether it's a court case, a negotiation, or trying to win promotion – it always helps to put yourself in the position of the person you are dealing with. It's not about how much you want to be promoted or how hard you will work, it's about the perception and needs of the decision makers which decides whether they want to promote you.
To make them consider promotion, you have to make sure that you bring yourself to their attention for all the right reasons.
Work performance is not the single most important issue in deciding whether to promote associates to manager, and then on to partner status. Many factors, including economics, ability to win new clients and business and potential, available workloads, all affect whether the firm and practice area can support another manager or partner. The decision makers will also consider rival candidates for promotion.
In today's modern legal profession law firms tend to view the bottom line as equally, if not more important, than the desire to practice law. Although they are obviously inter-linked, law firms will always be interested in staff that they see can help them make a profit. Few firms can afford partners who are unable to pay their own way. Today managers and partners are expected to work harder and are often judged on financial performance rather than legal ability.
This article is only a guide. There are many individual reasons, which I cannot cover in one article, which might affect the decision, but the points I will mention are those which are frequently quoted by senior lawyers and HR Directors in relation to promotion.
Partners recognize that an associate's services and contribution cannot be measured with certainty, nor can their overall performance be assessed on a specific scale.
Partners also know that an associate rarely achieves the highest level in all established criteria: some associates do certain things better than others, so each must be assessed individually. High marks in every category is not essential for promotion. It’s the criteria, as a whole, which provides the topics for consideration or objective comparison, so that uniformity and fairness can be achieved in the selection process.
Here are some generally acknowledged tips – but – if you are thinking you can get promoted just by reading an article then you have been misinformed. Promotion depends on work and a lot more besides. This article will try to ensure that you are directing your efforts along the right lines. And there is something else. Once you have read this article, stop planning and plotting and get on with the work needed to win a promotion – ‘Less education and more application’, will almost certainly work best.
1. Know who to target
Are there documented requirements? If so – the job is half done. If there aren’t any documented requirements and you’re wondering what you need to do, there’s a simple answer – ASK SOMEONE! Many young lawyers are terrified of asking their superiors about career advancement. I know that some partners are frightening but, unless you’re working for one of those, then why not speak with your partner about their ideas for advancement within the firm.
Even if there are promotion policies and criteria – remember the subjective criteria. These ALWAYS exist. The unspoken requirements that you need to understand. Look at the people who are at the level you want – what do they have in common? Again, ask a senior person. If necessary you’re going to have to figure it out yourself – but at least make an educated guess!
2. Know where the power is
If you want promotion, discover who makes the decisions. Influence in law firms is complex. The partner you work may have lots, or none. Ask others who have been promoted. It can be difficult to move the conversation to discover the answer but it’s essential you find out. Why? Because you must know who you need to convince and what they care about. Only then can you see where you should focus your efforts.
3. Don’t get distracted in planning
When trying to get promoted some people get a bit lost. They spend so long planning, writing, noting, observing and obsessing that they actually forget to keep improving. It’s like reading every self-help book ever written, but never actually getting started. I will repeat ‘A little less education, a little more application’ would probably be more helpful.
Basically, you will get a promotion if you meet 2 out of 3 criteria:
- it makes economic sense for them to promote you.
- you meet the requirements for promotion.
- they can’t afford to lose you
If you are making money, serving clients, getting along with your team, networking well, and are a generally responsible contributor to the firm, then, by and large, you haven’t got too much to worry about. So spend a little time planning and understanding the requirements – but not too much.
Rather than obsessing about how to get promoted, why not obsess about improving your contribution to the firm, or gaining International legal qualifications in case you decide to take your skills to another firm, or Country? The one will likely follow the other. The UK Law Society’s QLTS (a Solicitor’s cross over exam for foreign lawyers to practice as UK Solicitors anywhere in the world) is probably the quickest and easiest route to gaining International legal qualifications which you could use in Dubai, Shanghai, New York, or London or, basically, anywhere in the world. We can help you with free advice on this qualification, just click on this link to arrange a free advice call –
Due to the relatively structured nature of the law profession, those who do want rapid, regular promotion must be prepared to sacrifice a lot – remember that long working hours don’t make for a good work/life balance or family life. Leading law firms are opening offices where the world’s emerging economies offer great prizes – China, South America, India, Indonesia – willingness to travel, plus international qualifications, could be the key to carving out a successful lucrative legal career.
It will take usually take seven to ten years to build up the expertise needed to be considered by a large firm. Firms are looking for intelligence, legal knowledge, common sense, solid client relationships, good business sense, stability in both personal and professional life and, in the case of largest firms, absolute dedication to the firm and the work.
Should you stay with one employer and go all out for partnership, or to move to other firms? Understanding about the future prospects of your present firm, and the likelihood of promotion, is necessary for these decisions. Here is some further guidance:
4. Ask for a mentor at work
Mentors can offer valuable career guidance. Having a wise, experienced colleague on your side can really help propel your law career in the right direction. Many law firms have formal mentoring programmes – but, even if your company does not, it’s certainly worth building a close, friendly bond with your department manager or other influential people you work with.
5. Don’t be a wallflower
If no one knows how brilliant an employment lawyer or personal injury lawyer you are, and that you are keen to progress, you won’t get noticed. You must be noticed for decision-makers to consider you. It’s important to actively promote yourself and become a known entity within your department and even beyond. Consider ways of regularly updating your boss on achievements. If possible, show the revenue, or the new clients you have brought in. Promotions are not all based on your past performance, but you can make a strong case for a promotion by showing your past and ongoing successes.
6. Make yourself so valuable that they can’t afford to lose you
Build your productivity and client skills so that you are an essential part of the firm, then you can negotiate from a position of strength.
One law recruitment expert said: ‘The path to partnership is simple to understand. If you have among the highest billable hours in the firm and have the ability to maintain and continuously attract new clients, you will have a good chance of making partner’. Clearly, those who are doggedly productive, able to carry out complex legal dealings without making mistakes, and able to keep clients happy, will go far. It will help to truly excel in your specialism, by constantly building knowledge and expertise. Keep current with industry news and events, and pay attention to events outside your legal area.
7. Refine interpersonal skills
Communication soft skills are part of being a successful attorney, essential to forging relationships with professionals in your office and within the legal community and winning new clients. Strengthen communication skills by interacting with a wide range of people and personalities. From clients to co-workers to co-counsel – you need to be able to work with them all effectively. Strong communication skills are not just for arguing cases or writing memos but also for conveying important information and business solutions to clients. If you are shy, or reserved, then practice, by forcing yourself to speak with people even if you feel awkward – the more you do it, the easier it becomes!
The more people who know you, appreciate your strengths and abilities, know your value to the organisation and recognise your ambitions, the more likely your name will be discussed when opportunities arise. You can use social media here, but don’t look as though you are job-hunting for another firm. Internal networking teaches you much more about the firm or company if you network with people in other areas of the same firm. Be visible. There are many ways to raise your profile in addition to hard work. Take part in office events, such as team-building activities, holiday parties, birthday celebrations, non-profit or pro bono work, and other official mix-and-mingle opportunities. These allow you to network with co-workers and partners in a more relaxed setting and find out more about the firm.
9. Increase your responsibilities
How can you show how hard-working and committed to the company you are? Simple! Volunteer. Asking for more responsibilities and for more work shows your interest and desire to help your department and firm to succeed.
10. Behave like a manager and you will become one
Whatever your role in the firm, you have to work hard to earn a reputation for being dependable, professional, and cooperative. If you look like manager material, you are more likely to be considered for management posts that come up. If it helps, volunteer for tasks outside your usual work – help set up presentations, speak at events or take on extra projects.
Please, try and dress professionally! Looking the part is sometimes half the job in itself. The clients and seniors want to see someone who looks like a manager or a partner.
Whatever you do – never get yourself a reputation as a clock-watcher or complainer or someone who fails to complete tasks. Show a positive outlook and a ‘can do’ attitude even when things are difficult. Be a problem-solver. If a difficult client or a hold-up occurs – come up with at least one solution then ask your boss to let you deal with the situation. Problem-solvers are more likely than complainers to land a promotion.
11. Work hard as a team player
Because so much of work is now accomplished through teams – either departmental or cross-functional – it’s important to share successes with your team, and to avoid finger-pointing when there are failures. Showing yourself as a team player will build your reputation and increase your value.
12. Be client-focused
If you're an attorney at a law firm, demonstrating your rainmaking skills is one of the best ways to get noticed. Improving client service levels involves maintaining an active dialogue with clients. Consider inviting some of your best clients to lunch to discuss their legal needs, where they feel your firm is doing well, where you can do better, and how you can improve the quality of the services you deliver and reduce the client's costs.
13. Develop your business skills
A law firm is a business – it needs attorneys who can provide legal advice that keeps clients’ business goals in mind. Show partners and other senior colleagues you clearly recognize corporate clients’ growing demand for more value for their spending, more predictability, better communication, transparency in billing, and improved efficiency. Embrace changes that may be introduced – Especially new technology, so you can explain it to others, which gives you the aura of being the firm’s expert on the topic.
14. Improve your English language skills
The language of International business in English. The language of International law is legal English.
If you are a non-native English speaker, make sure your legal English skills are at the highest level. Study and improve yourself. You are in a career which may last for 40 years of your life. You can surely find a couple of hours a week to improve your English to move ahead of your contemporaries in the race to the top. Obviously, we at the British Legal Centre can help you with this and with the QLTS qualification. But whatever you do – do something! The alternative is to be left behind, wondering, Why not me?
Part 1 - Some general basics
Part 2 - Growing your own professional client base – Networking Events
Part 3 - Essential skills – The Ability to speak in Public
Part 4 - Writing a successful CV
Part 5 - Giving a successful Interview – What to do and what not to do
Part 6 - Letter writing skills
Part 7 - Deciding which area of law to work in
Part 8 - Seven skills that will land you work experience at a law firm
Part 9 - How to move your career into top gear – Winning quick promotions
Part 10 - The Key to moving ahead in your career – Mastering Legal English!