Newly minted attorneys are often so focused on securing employment (sometimes just any employment) that they do not take the time, or have the foresight to consider whether their first legal job will help them achieve their career goals. Perhaps they do not know what their long-term career goals are. Or maybe they start down one particular path with certain goals in mind, only to realize that their path of choice is not what they expected. In any scenario, young attorneys should strive to perform work that holds meaning and purpose for their future. It is never too early to set the wheels in motion that will help an attorney achieve his or her long-term career objectives. Below are a number of factors for young lawyers to use to determine if their work environment will fit their career goals.
Where do you want to be in five, 10 or 20 years?
So you've survived law school and the bar exam and even managed to find gainful employment, now what? Now is finally the time to allow yourself to think about the big picture, and then break down your objectives into milestones that are actually achievable. By way of example, you may decide that your goal is to be a litigator and to regularly try high-profile cases. But successful trial attorneys do not simply have those cases handed to them overnight. Of course becoming a successful trial attorney takes hard work and determination, but planning is also a critical element of success. You know that you need to obtain certain skills and an understanding of one or multiple areas of law to get to the final stage. But does your current position allow you to develop those skills? Consider the practices and policies of your work environment, ask questions and observe the actions of your colleagues. Will you be able to take your first deposition in the first year or two of practice? Will you have the opportunity to try at least one case within a five-year timeframe? Does your employer provide practical training and hands-on litigation experience (such as taking on pro bono cases) and include young attorneys in those experiences? If the answers to any of these questions is "No," then your current position may not provide you with the work experience needed to achieve your goals. If that is the case, then you must be prepared to broaden your horizons and go after what you want. It is important that your hard work serves a purpose not only to your employer, but also to your future self.
What do you enjoy most about your practice of law?
For some young professionals, it may take years to figure out the exact area of the law in which they want to specialize. However, one simple tip to help you get there is to make conscious observations regarding what you do and do not like about your current job responsibilities. What is your favorite part of the day? Are there certain job duties that you dislike? How often are you asked to perform each of these tasks? Remember the answers to these questions and put your observations to good use by helping yourself shape your must-have list for future employment. This action can be as simple as deciding whether you want to continue to spend half your week on the road or in the courtroom, as opposed to a standard office environment. You should also think about the substantive implications of your work. Do you feel that your work has a significant and beneficial impact on your community? Even young lawyers should understand the purpose of their work, how that work fits into in the bigger picture, and then feel motivated to obtain a favorable outcome for your clients.
Are you being challenged?
Young lawyers should get in the habit of pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone. Understandably, young lawyers will feel challenged by nearly all aspects of the law, particularly where they have not researched a particular subject matter or where they lack practical experience with tasks such as brief writing or courtroom procedure. Still, it is important for young attorneys not to get too comfortable in their work such that they no longer feel stimulated on an intellectual level. The right work environment will allow a young attorney to balance the challenges of mastering and expanding his or her expertise, while enabling the attorney to hone a skillset in a particular field.
Do you have room to grow?
Room for "growth" can take on different meanings for different people. At the end of the day, however, a young attorney is likely to feel most fulfilled in a work environment that fosters both professional and personal growth. This may mean having the ability to strive for a particular professional achievement, a promotion, or even just strengthening your confidence as a young professional. In this area, it may be important to analyze the culture of your particular work environment and how that culture impacts your role in the organization or firm? Does your workplace put in the time and effort to facilitate the growth of young professionals? Does your employer focus on leadership and marketing from the ground up? These are all questions to consider when determining whether you can sustain a lengthy professional relationship in your place of employment.
Do you have a solid network?
Developing a solid network may seem like common sense, but is much easier said than done. Young attorneys should surround themselves with a diverse network of professionals who can support the attorney in multiple aspects of his or her career. Young attorneys should seek out more senior attorneys for advice and mentorship. These attorneys may work at the young attorney's current place of business, a former position or elsewhere. Young attorneys should also pursue mentorship from non-legal professionals who work in a variety of fields. Having a well-balanced network will not only provide new attorneys with access to a wide array of legal resources, but will also benefit a young attorney if they need assistance with transitioning from one work environment to the next. Finally, these resources will enable that individual to market his or her skills and build the self-confidence needed for a productive future in the legal world.
In my experience, I have found that analyzing these factors periodically has helped to set me on a path to achieve my goals in a challenging, yet rewarding, environment. Hopefully, you will find these tips helpful as you establish your own path in the practice of law. •