Strategies to Advance Your Legal Career

By Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D.,
Robert Half 


Whether you’re just starting out in the legal profession or have years of experience, to take your legal career to the next level, you must actively seek opportunities to demonstrate leadership, build enduring relationships and showcase your contributions to your employer's longer-term goals. Here are five ways to move your career into the fast lane.

1. Request stretch assignments

Ask your supervisor for projects or assignments pushing you beyond your comfort zone. Entry-level professionals might volunteer to take the lead on an assignment or work on a transaction with a high level of complexity or matter outside their usual work scope.

Any stretch assignment worth its salt carries the risk of failure — and that’s precisely what you’re looking for. When evaluating promotion candidates, your firm’s leadership will prioritize bold and adaptable professionals over ones who always play it safe. Embracing stretch assignments demonstrates your readiness for a more senior role.

2. Showcase leadership skills by becoming a mentor

How can you showcase your leadership potential if you don’t lead a team? One way is to become a mentor, either informally or as part of your firm’s mentorship program. 
Good mentors and good managers have overlapping skills. Like great bosses, effective mentors lead by example and demonstrate the qualities they want to instill in their mentees. By modeling behaviors like professionalism, ethical practices and commitment to excellence, you can inspire your protégés to follow your lead. And by providing constructive feedback and encouragement, you can help mentees build their confidence and overcome obstacles.

3. Build strong and enduring relationships

Personal relationships become more important as you rise in the legal profession. They’re often crucial to developing new business opportunities, as people are more likely to hire or provide a recommendation to someone they know and trust. Over time, strong relationships will generate quality referrals that are a good fit for your skills and experience and can help propel your career forward.

To build and maintain positive relationships, network with colleagues in your organization, attend industry events and conferences and become an active member of professional associations. But don’t stop there. Take an interest in your colleagues and clients as individuals, not just as professionals. Get to know their interests, hobbies and passions, and use this knowledge to build deep connections and rapport. 

4. Embrace the future of legal work

Technology has already transformed the legal field, and its impact should only accelerate in the coming years. For example, AI and data analytics are being used to review and analyze large volumes of case materials, scrutinize case outcomes, costs and client feedback. These tech tools are enabling legal professionals to make more informed decisions and improve services.

You don’t have to be an IT expert to champion these technologies. Stay informed by reading industry publications and following thought leaders in the legal tech space. Build relationships with tech experts within your organization to better understand the capabilities and limitations of different technologies. And when advocating for the use of technology with leadership, focus on benefits such as increased efficiency, reduced costs and improved delivery of legal services. 

5. Nurture your personal brand

It’s good to be ambitious. But if that’s the first word your colleagues and supervisors use to describe you, your career advancement may eventually stall. 

That's why it’s critical to nurture your personal brand. Regardless of your intentions, your brand (and career prospects) will suffer if you come across as arrogant and self-promoting. On the other hand, if people interpret your actions as for the betterment of the firm or the wider community, your stock will rise. Don’t expect a pat on the back for doing the right thing, but senior leaders will notice and appreciate your attitude. 

To advance your legal career, don’t wait for opportunities. Create them. With a proactive approach, you will not only boost your promotion prospects but also your chances of fulfilling your long-term goals.

Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit