How to Set the Groundwork for Legal Career Advancement

By Robert Half Legal

At some point in almost every legal professional’s life, there’s a desire to look around and explore what other interesting positions and options are out there. At the same time, you may be beset with doubt. Do I have the right skill set to impress hiring managers? Have I adequately kept up with emerging legal trends? Are suitable legal jobs even out there? All this uncertainty can be enough to keep you paralyzed, or at least stagnant, in your legal career.

But don’t let self-doubt stop your career trajectory. If you’re ready to change gears and pursue a new role — or even try a different practice area — preparation and building productive habits helps you push past those hesitations. Here are some steps you can take today to help achieve future career success:

1. Keep learning. The legal industry continually grows and evolves, and a wide variety of exciting opportunities constantly arise. Adding new and modernized skills to your toolbox can be one of the most effective ways to advance your legal career.

But what should you focus on? Successful lawyers, paralegals and law office managers perpetually upgrade their legal career skills. They keep up-to-date with changes in technology, such as eDiscovery, cloud services, collaboration tools, predictive coding and security protocol. When you’re on top of relevant trends and modern solutions, your value to employers sits higher than that of those who aren’t as savvy.

Don’t forget about soft skills. The foundation of the legal profession is person-to-person interactions, be they in the office, in the courtroom, on the phone or by electronic means. Whether you’re between jobs or currently working, strive to hone attributes such as public speaking, collaboration, adaptability, diversity and active listening in your daily routine.            

2. Keep track of your accomplishments. If it’s been a while since you’ve looked for a new legal job, you may not be accounting for all the new competencies you possess. Before you update your legal resume, brainstorm all the ways you’ve added value to your current role. Did you train new legal hires? Help the law firm transition from a glitchy in-house system to a cloud-based service? Present a poster or give a talk at an industry event? These are all important points to include in your new resume and talk about during interviews.

Likewise, if you’re after a raise or promotion with your current firm, you need to “collect evidence” before you can make a convincing case to the senior partner as to why you deserve more money or a shinier job title.

3. Network, network, network. Some legal professionals are naturally introverted, and that’s okay. In fact, the field of law probably could benefit from people who talk less and listen more. However, if a new legal job is to be in your future, you need to speak up.

Integrate yourself into the legal community as much as possible. Maintaining social media accounts on LinkedIn and Facebook is a great way to grow your contacts list, but don’t let that be your only source of networking. Reach out in person. Contact a few former coworkers and discretely let them know you’re interested in a career change. In both professional and social settings, have ready a short elevator pitch at the ready about what you do and how you’re interested in exploring new opportunities. Become active in your local bar association and other professional groups.

4. Work with a recruiter. You don’t have to go about a job search alone. A specialized legal staffing firm has deep connections with law firms, corporate legal departments and other potential employers. Also, a legal recruitment agency can connect you with contract legal work, temp-to-hire positions and full-time jobs that you may not have access to through regular job boards. Recruiters and agencies can save you considerable time and effort, especially if you’re new in the area or are having trouble getting your foot in the door.

Rewarding legal jobs are out there. If you’re thinking about making a career change, start setting the groundwork now for future professional success.