5 Legal Career Tips with Big Returns 

By Jamy J. Sullivan



With the legal talent shortage expected to continue in 2020, highly skilled job candidates should remain in strong demand. But job hunting is just one way to build a legal career. What about attorneys and paralegals who want to climb the career ladder within their current organization?  

There are several ways to get ahead without looking for a new job. Check out these five career tips with a big ROI: 

1. Update your tech skills. As legal technology evolves at a rapid rate, so does the nature of legal work. Paralegals and legal assistants are increasingly tasked with complex matters like analyzing electronically stored information for eDiscovery requests, or dealing with Securities and Exchange Commission filings and data privacy compliance. In addition, AI technology is transforming some legal positions by taking over much of document review and legal research. So, don’t let your lack of tech skills be the reason you’re passed over for a promotion.  

To make the most of the shift towards tech, you have to keep up. Take vendor-supplied or third-party tutorials and attend seminars and conferences. Many law firms and legal departments budget for professional development and tuition reimbursement, so be sure to take advantage of these perks. 

2. Sharpen your interpersonal abilities. When it comes to job advancement, a solid knowledge of your field is only half the battle. You also need exceptional people skills, which are the foundation of good leadership, collaboration and client relationships. 

Are you a good communicator? How can you know? One way is to note whether colleagues or clients frequently ask for clarification after receiving your emails. A business writing class could be the solution. Do you get nervous when speaking in front of a group? Just bite the bullet and do it more often until presenting becomes second nature. And don’t forget to truly listen, an essential skill for legal professionals. 

3. Take on tough assignments. Don’t wait for opportunities to fall into your lap. Welcome tough challenges. A large part of preparing yourself for more advanced roles is actively pursuing not things that are easy but things that are hard. 

Ask to assist a senior attorney who just took on a big case. Volunteer for projects that stretch your abilities and push you outside your comfort zone. Offer to lead a committee at work or in your professional association. Work with and delight that hard-to-please client. Employers take notice of — and promote — team players who don’t shy away from demanding assignments.  

4. Increase in-person networking. While a carefully cultivated online presence is more essential than ever for legal professionals, no amount of well-timed tweets and LinkedIn posts can match the value of face time. Conferences and conventions are great for growing your network, so be sure to make time for those.  

At the same time, don’t underestimate the value of deepening your existing business relationships. Schedule lunch or coffee with a client instead of calling them about an important matter. Rather than sending an email, walk to a coworker’s desk to ask a question. Invite colleagues to go out for drinks after work. 

It’s true that getting ahead is often more about the people you know than what you know. 

5. Negotiate your compensation. A major reason that many legal specialists seek a new job is to earn more money. But honestly, this isn’t something you always have to leave your job for. To make sure you’re getting paid what you’re worth, use up-to-date resources like the 2020 Robert Half Legal Salary Guide to benchmark compensation for your position and city. Then use these figures to support your request for a raise.  

Don’t forget that you can also negotiate perks, especially if management can’t afford to give you a salary increase. You could request a flexible schedule, work-from-home days, additional paid time off and tuition reimbursement for a degree. 

The key to advancing your legal career in-house is to do more than what’s expected. That’s the best way to get the recognition and compensation you deserve.