10 Ways to Work Happier in Your Legal Career

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD

No matter how much you love the career path you’ve chosen, spending a significant amount of time in any legal field can make it lose its luster. Or if you’re just starting your professional journey, the steep learning curve of the legal industry and (often self-imposed) pressure to be brilliant out of the gate can make you start questioning your decision to go to law school.

No matter the length of your legal tenure, one of the best things you can do is listen to and benefit from the experience of others. Robert Half Legal asked over 300 lawyers and other legal professionals about the career tips that have worked best for them over the years. Here are 10 that can help energize or recharge your passion for your profession:

1. Choose a job that allows you to learn. Continuing legal education (CLE) isn’t just a criterion for keeping your bar membership or paralegal certification in good standing. Find an employer that places a high value on professional development, such as training on the latest issues in immigration law or best practices for working with eDiscovery providers. If your employer is stingy when it comes to CLE, it might be time to look elsewhere.

2. Get out of the rut. Many legal professionals miss out on opportunities because they’re unwilling take risks. Decide which aspects of your career are flexible and which are not. For example, if you’re unwilling to uproot your family to move to a city with more job prospects, you could advance your career by shifting to a hot practice area like litigation or a rapidly growing field like real estate.

3. Find a like-minded company. During your job search, it’s tempting to cast a wide net by applying to every position you’re remotely qualified for. But it really pays to do your research. Take the time to learn about prospective employers, including their community outreach and pro bono work. One of the keys to working happy is having pride in your work and an employer that shares your values.

4. Challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to take on new assignments or volunteer to lead projects. Doing so expands your knowledge base and broadens your experience — which is essential for career satisfaction, as well as advancement. 

5. Embrace collaboration. It’s hard to succeed in the legal world as a lone wolf. Even solo practitioners benefit when they partner with other legal specialists. To deepen work relationships and expand your network, make an effort to team up with coworkers and fellow professionals in your area whenever possible. 

6. Listen more — and better. To be a truly effective legal specialist, learn the art of active listening. This is particularly important when dealing with clients, who want to feel that their legal team fully understands what they’re looking for in representation.

7. Take your time. Legal professionals often work in high-pressure environments, but it’s important to be able to take a step back and look at all sides of a problem. It’s easier and takes less time to do something right the first time than to explain to your boss or client why you did it wrong.

8. Invest in mentoring. If your firm or company has a mentorship program, take full advantage of it. If not, be proactive by asking a seasoned legal professional in a position you’d like to get to — at your workplace or elsewhere — if they could advise you in your career. And when you’ve moved up the ladder, pay it forward by taking on a mentee of your own. Even the most experienced lawyers have something to learn from a junior associate.

9. Own up to mistakes — and learn from them. No one is perfect, and occasionally you won’t get the results you’re hoping for. But you’ll be armed with new knowledge from the experience next time you find yourself in a similar situation.

10. Be fearless. Legal professionals often must make tough decisions and, inevitably, there will be some regrets. But don’t let that paralyze you. Every day on the job hones your skills and helps you develop professional instincts. When the time comes for you to make a hard call, listen to your gut.

The field of law can be deeply fulfilling. If you’re not happy with your career, you owe it to yourself to make some changes, either in your current role or your next legal job.